The Bigger Picture

Farm Magazines and Agriculture Ninety Years Ago

Subscriber check from 1923 sparks historical research


We recently received a letter in the Wallaces Farmer offices in Urbandale, Iowa, from 84-year-old Donald Brandt, of Pilot Mound, Iowa.  Mr. Brandt wrote in part, "I am enclosing several old checks written by my father before I was born and made out to Wallaces Farmer. Thought you might have an interest in them."

You bet, Donald! As one who has been with Wallaces Farmer and Farm Progress Company for more than 40 years, I'm extremely interested in the history of the magazine and what it covered through the years.

One of the checks was made out to Wallaces Farmer on June 11, 1923 in the amount of $2. So, out of curiosity, I leafed through our bound volume of the 1923 issues. Turns out a one-year subscription at that time cost $1. Apparently, Donald's father Isaac paid for a two-year subscription.

Further scanning of the various issues turned up some interesting headlines, etc. For example, in the January 12, 1923 issue under the headline, "Controlling Agricultural Output," H. A. Wallace declared: "Farmers have just as much right to organize to control their output as union labor has to organize for the purpose of shortening hours and increasing wages. They have a much right to cease production wholly or in part as union labor has to strike. It is no more wrong for farmers to reduce production when prices are below cost of production than it is for the United States Steel Corporation to cut pig iron production in half when prices are rapidly falling."


Other headlines and topics sound vaguely familiar. In the February 9, 1923 issue: "Lower taxes for Iowa farmers, What it costs to run a tractor, Road laws debated."

Interestingly, four color advertising appeared in some issues in 1923. For example, there is an ad for Gold Seal Congoleum  rugs with four-color photos of the rugs available.

Another four-color ad touted, "The Car for the Woman on the Farm." The ad copy states, "The country woman needs her own car. When the farm has only one car it is usually in use on the business of the farm, just when the wife or daughter needs to go to town or to a meeting or church or to make calls. The Chevrolet Utility Coupe is an ideal car for this purpose…" Price for the Chevrolet Utility Coupe -- $680.

I wonder what the conversations around the supper table were like when then ad appeared!

In a September issue a headline read, "Retail pork prices are too high."  In a summary of the article, H.A. Wallace wrote: "It costs twice as much to get pork from the farm to the consumer's table as it did before the war. This spread between the price of live hogs per pound and the retail price of pork products per pound was 14 cents in 1913. In July of this year it was 27 cents. This means that the consumer is paying half again as much today for pork products as he was in 1913. The farmer is getting less for his hogs than he was in 1913. Who gets the difference?"

I bet you can figure out the answer Wallace supplied.

I could go on and on. It's really fascinating but I better get back to my other projects. Thank you Donald Brandt for sharing those old checks!



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