THERE ARE NUMEROUS WAYS to celebrate Farm Week throughout the countryside. Please Don’t Quote Me focuses on the magazine Farm Journal last week, telling about how influential the periodical has been over the hundred thirty-five years it’s been published and how it reflects what was going on in agriculture all that time.
The publication was founded by Wilmer Atkinson in 1877 for “farmers within a day’s drive of Philadelphia” but it soon was requested by farmers all over the nation.
Eventually, as it evolved, it was printed for regions with specialties such as corn stories for the Midwest, cotton for the Southern readers and for cattlemen wherever. It was just one way the “Journal” kept on top (or ahead) of things.
Each editor, of course, had his own ideas on what should be featured. As time passed a celebrity or so made its cover such as the woman marking a jar of canned peaches who may have been royalty. The head was cut off in copying. It also reads 1919, 25¢ a copy.
What was “saved” was “of Monaco.” No, it wasn’t Princess Grace. Yet. We are grateful for the material used here, obtained several years ago at a local library. Prophetstown, we think. Thanks!
When Atkinson retired in 1917 after forty years of editing (and founding) the magazine, his nephew, Arthur Jenkins, assumed direction of the “Journal” in 1920.
By the ‘20’s the “Golden Age” of farming was said to have passed, meaning 1900 to 1914 when it was presumed that country had “filled up,” the frontier had gone into the past and supply and demand were nearly equally balanced. There was a satisfying atmosphere throughout America. Then war was declared in Europe. The Farm Journal’s stand was to not become involved but all too soon we were drawn into the all-consuming conflict. Many technological changes occurred during and because of the War.
Editor Jenkins was said to be adequate to the task of guiding the agricultural community to accepting the many new inventions and implements that were developed at the time.
By 1927 Jenkins was overseeing changes that had been taking place throughout and passing them on to farmers. When the 100th anniversary occurred in 1977, he was credited with being active and alert in assisting its compilation. He’d said that before he’d come to editing the magazine he ached to make changes and explore new ideas. Editors during its years of publishing were all excited about the job’s challenges. Through the teen years of 1900, the ‘20’s, a “revolution” had taken place in urban and rural life ... The automobile was converted, too, to farm machinery; tractors and so on. Airplanes had arrived and rapidly improved; the telephone was used more and more as it was finer and finer tuned. Even remote places were being connected. And electricity also was being made available to rural neighborhoods. “The Farm Journal,” though critical of much of the New Deal’s programs during the 1930’s, the Depression years, it was proactive in promoting the Rural Electrification Administration, a government bureau bringing electricity to the countryside.
With the urging of many write-ups in the “Farm Journal,” many a reader went out to campaign for electricity for his area. It could have been an individual inspired by the information or a group excited about how electricity could assist in farm work and the home.
Besides these “modernization” steps, the “Journal” had been encouraging readers to take advantage of the agricultural schools that now dotted the nation, a turn-around from the earliest days under Mr. Atkinson who did reverse his thoughts concerning them. The publication promoted readers to take advantage of each state’s extension service and conservation departments. As time passed and upheaval of WWI had seen peace spread over the world, another war loomed. The Farm Journal was strict in its refusal to join friendly allies in the war in Europe but when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there was no other way than to do what they could for the war effort.
With all the immense changes over this short period “Farm Journal” was nearly inundated by the amount of news and material it felt obligated to print. Fiction articles were dropped, other light-hearted items, too. As early as 1942 the “Journal” saw the need for some global plan to aid the needy. The agricultural sections dug deep to meet the challenge. The Marshall Plan became a governmental successor.
The “Journal” was more interested in assisting and promoting close to home. Sometimes their campaign might have seemed curious. When, for instance, Warfarin, was developed as the first effective rat killer on the market, the “Journal” plugged away month after month in coaxing farmers to use it. Rats were a terrible menace on the farm, destroying crops before and after harvest, spreading disease, harming animals and humans. They must be controlled. It was a battle that took time but was a necessity for “Farm Journal” to support.
By the late 1940’s into the ‘50’s, their promotions focused on research into soils, crops, livestock and other concerns of the farmer. All were rapidly progressing and often inspired by the magazine. Some of the research led to ideas that involved extensive study. Inexpensive penicillin was just one medicine developed. Editor, Wheeler McMillen, in the late 1940’s first formed the idea asking what an inch of rain was worth on a date, say, August 10, in the outcome of a corn crop. As he wrote, one thing led to another. McMillen asked himself what if, besides irrigating a crop, what would a farmer’s experience and the science he’d learned in addition, how would it affect the yield.
With the aid of an Illinois seed and fertilizer dealer, Joe Schrock, they sought out seven farmers to try the experiment. It was NOT a contest but, of course, in the American way, it likely became that!!! It was called the “300 Bushel Corn Adventure,” an attention-getting slogan. The objective did prove to be reachable. And a wealth of information was the result.
In 1955 a teenage 4-H’er from Mississippi achieved 304 bushels per acre. However, it was undecided what factor was the key to its success.
The next three experimenters achieved the three hundred bushel goal in Louisiana , Michigan and, in 1975, an Illinois farmer produced 338 bushels per. It is pointed out that “Farm Journal” has contributed extensively to American agriculture ... Research into hybrids, plant and animal, “weedicides,” buildings, barns, homes and housewifery, an endless variety of programs. Pointed out were four programs that the “Journal” was especially tied to: #1. Continuous corn Cultivation; #2. Narrow Corn Rows; #3. Chemical weed killers; #4. Adoption of larger and more efficient farm power and equipment.
Reference from its one hundredth anniversary book stated that by the 1960’s the magazine had to again transform itself from “something for everyone” into a publication in which every article would appeal to all members of the farm family. At that time, the regional specialties were printed. Then its history of reflecting that era it was distributed, it gradually became a “business magazine.”
As knowledge and innovation became numerous and widespread, editors saw the importance of touching on subjects such as taxes, business organization, marketing, financing and so forth. Their goal in this was to reach the leaders in specific areas, the wealthy farmer whose investments were beyond the average. The publication was named, “Top Operator.” Again the “Journal” met need. Now it was the “Business Magazine for the American Agriculturalist,” Its function ever-changing to suit the times, over a hundred years of time.
One article touched on a subject that bears noting in this day of the MASS MEDIA, the media who gives the impression that it rules the world.
The writer, McMillen, said in 1977 that agricultural journalists have to be the happiest of all reporters. “They don’t have to peak through a keyhole, raid no files, destroy no reputations, ask no questions to print a silly answer, nor report rumors as possible fact. Constructive and helpful is a motto and believing in the right to choose ... The essence of American liberty.”
History’s route can be directed by the darnedest things.