A Rare Book Describing the Seed Business in the 1930s
If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you know I enjoy agricultural history. All facets interest me, but hybrid corn development and the seed industry are fascinating topics. Hybrid corn is considered one of the greatest advancements in American agriculture with early beginnings around 1901. Yields of open pollinated corn were limited from the 1860s through the early 1900s but hybrid vigor quickly released the genetic potential of corn (Zea mays) and yields improved substantially and quickly with successful breeding programs sprouting up all over the Midwest region. The growing and selling of hybrid seed to farmers became a “business” proposition in the 1920s and several companies formed or expanded as a result.
One such brand that came into prominence was Kingscrost Hybrid Seed Corn, a part of Northrup, King & Co. which had roots in flower and garden seeds back to the 1880s. Headquartered in Minneapolis, MN, their focus was primarily on early maturity corn hybrids in the 90-to-110-day maturity range (a reference to the approximate number of days for the seed to reach physiological maturity). They were competing with companies such as Pioneer Hi-Bred, Dekalb (De Kalb), Funks Brothers, Pfister and others.
There is an abundance of books, manuals, sales literature, and other items that can be found describing the science and business of hybrid corn. For a recent review I encourage you to visit Terry Daynard’s blog on the brief history of the hybrid corn industry (tdaynard.com). Most of the books he cites are out of print but still available with some patient searching of auction sites and bookseller websites.
Given all these materials, few, if any, tell the story from beginning to end of a how a seed company grew and marketed their seed. That’s what makes this Kingscrost book remarkable. In my 20+ years in the seed business, I’ve seen only one other manual similar, but it wasn’t as complete or thorough. This book describes the general science and field principles behind the breeding, includes black and white photos showing them in practice and then provides the marketing/sales pages that a seed representative can use to promote the hybrids. (My guess is that it was put together as a training resource.) The last section of the book gives more thorough explanations of the various aspects presented throughout. Ironically, most of the basic principles and terminology described are still in use today, 80+ years after its publication.
It is a large book with board covers, contains 100 pages and measures 9 x 12 inches. I’ve added some additional notes in the beginning to give context and specifics on how I put this together and a look at some sales items at the back to give an idea of what the farmer experienced. If possible, browse it in a 2-page viewing format as I laid the pages out as they appeared in the book.
My goal is to share this so that students, teachers and ag enthusiasts, in general, can enjoy this aspect of agricultural history. Download a copy and share the link with others!
I want you to do well. ~ph