Wednesday, October 21, 2020


Marker Details

Historical Marker:

First DeKalbĀ® Brand Corn Breeding Plot

Image Courtesy of Karen Kruse
The marker is located on Nelson Road just north and east of where it intersects with Lincoln Highway (Route 38), two miles west of DeKalb, Illinois
Dedication Date:
Dedication By:
DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, Inc.

Marker Description:

On this farm two entrepreneurs began a small experiment in 1925, the results of which have helped transform agriculture and the economics of Illinois, this nation and the world. Driven by the desire to improve farmers' productivity, Charlie Gunn (corn breeder) and Tom Roberts (manager) of the DeKalb County Agricultural Association began a hybrid corn-breeding program here on the then J.J. Kingsley farm. Their interest in pursuing the novel idea of boosting corn yields through the science of hybridization was solidified during an earlier visit to DeKalb by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace.

Because the science was little known and commercially unproven, Roberts and Gunn kept the breeding plot secret even from their board of directors until 1928. In 1933, a comparison trial of Gunn's first corn hybrid against an open-pollinated varied he had developed earlier showed an impressive 35 percent yield boost. In 1938 Gunn introduced an outstanding hybrid that extended the corn belt northward 200 miles. Roberts applied his business acumen, developing innovative ways to finance, produce, distribute, and market hybrid seed corn. Farmer dealers were signed up, sales grew, and by 1949, 18 seed conditioning plants had been built in the U.S. and Canada to meet growing demand.

It's hard to overstate the importance of hybrid corn. Indeed, in 1992 time magazine named hybrid corn as one of the innovations that most shaped our world in the 20th century.


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