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This Week in Illinois History: The DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association (January 5, 1912)

A DeKalb Winged Ear logo sign (c.1940) on display at the Ellwood House Museum in DeKalb, Ill.
Katie Finlon
A DeKalb Winged Ear logo sign (c.1940) on display at the Ellwood House Museum in DeKalb, Ill.

You’ve seen the logo. The flying ear of corn with DeKalb emblazoned on the side. But where did it come from? The origin of the famous flying corn can be traced back to January 5, 1912. On that day, one of the coldest on record in DeKalb County, a group of farmers, bankers and businessmen gathered to discuss the future of local agriculture. Their main concern was the decline in soil fertility. And they had a solution: create a county-wide organization to educate farmers in soil improvement and crop production.

The DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association (SIA) was the first of its kind in the state. It raised enough funds to hire a soil-science expert from the University of Illinois, Professor William Eckhardt, who travelled the county to educate farmers. He also operated an experimental plot of farmland attached to the county poorhouse to showcase his work.

The SIA made bulk purchases of seeds, fertilizer and other agricultural supplies to pass along the savings to farmers. It also began experimenting with corn seed varieties and pollination methods.

The association saw a lucrative future in supplying corn seed. In 1917 it spun off a for-profit corporation, the DeKalb County Agricultural Association. Under the leadership of Thomas Roberts Sr., DeKalb Ag, as it became known, began selling its unique brand of hybrid corn. It grew into an international powerhouse, dominating the US corn market for half a century. Its logo, the flying ear of corn, originated in the 1930s and was inspired by the Pegasus logo used by Mobil Oil. It symbolized how DeKalb Ag could lift up its customers.

Today, the DeKalb winged ear logo has been spotted all over the world. DeKalb Ag was sold to Monsanto in 1998.

In 1926, the SIA changed its name to DeKalb County Farm Bureau and still operates under that name today. Its 6,000-plus members continue its mission of agricultural advocacy and literacy.

Clint Cargile is the host of This Week in Illinois History and the creator and host of the podcast Drinkin’ with Lincoln.
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