Meet More Groundbreakers


Dr. Charles A. Black

charles a black

Dr. Charles A. Black, photo courtesy of Animal Science Publications.

As president of the American Society of Agronomy in 1970, the Lone Tree, Iowa native suggested that there be a way to present sound, scientific information to the nation’s leaders and policy makers in public positions. Black’s concern lead to the formation of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) in 1972. CAST consists of a broad range of 4500 scientists and experts in agricultural fields. As issues emerge, CAST task forces prepare testimony for federal hearings on those subjects. CAST also publishes “Science of Food and Agriculture” magazine quarterly that is distributed to 12,000 high school science departments.


Keith D. Elwick


Keith D. Elwick & Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area Director of Partnership             Candy Streed, courtesy of Vinton Today.

Before Keith Elwick founded Hawk-Bilt Machinery in Vinton, IA and before he accepted awards from the Queen of England, he got his start covered in manure. When the conveyor chain broke on Elwick’s manure spreader, Elwick was inspired to engineer a machine that would lift and toss small chunks of manure over the side and onto the farm field. In 1959 Elwick formed The Hawk Bilt Co., marketing his new invention. In 1962, The Howard Rotavator Co. in Great Britain obtained a license and began building, selling, and manufacturing the manure disposal rig in England, Africa, and Iceland. The Elwick Spreader was awarded the Burke Perpetual Challenge Trophy for “exemplary achievement in farm machinery design by the Queen of England and Prince Phillip on July 4, 1963.


Charlotte Mohr

Charlotte Mohr

Charlotte Mohr, photo courtesy of Weerts Funeral Home.

As an active Farm Bureau member from Pleasant Valley, IA, Mohr held a number of organizational positions with a focus on women’s programs. In Kenya, Mohr arranged for the Iowa Farm Bureau to send American garden seeds to a group in Nepal in a program that continues to this day. Mohr’s community service included starting a milk program for students in 1956, as well as volunteering in the areas of job training, library, symphony, museums, schools, the American Legion Auxillary, and Lodge.


Neal Smith

Neal Smith, photo courtesy of Iowa Public Radio.

Reared in poverty on a Jefferson County tenant farm, Smith learned early how to work hard. Active in 4-H, he became an expert on chickens and exhibited almost every commodity at fairs winning over 700 ribbons. The New Deal corn program convinced him that the government helped people. After a decade as an attorney, Smith became the longest seated Iowan in Congress, serving 36 years as a Democrat in the House of Representatives where he was able to bring millions of dollars’ worth of projects to central Iowa, becoming one of the most influential figures in farm policy. In the interests of food safety and protection of farmers who raised healthy products, he improved meat, poultry, grain, and egg inspection programs. Along with Smith’s agricultural pursuits, he worked for educational policies, protections for the elderly, court system reforms, and small business development.


Carol Hodne

Born in Carroll, IA to an agriculture economist conservationist and a sociologist, Carol Hodne had agriculture and the endeavor for societal reform in her blood. While attending Iowa State University, Hodne studied psychology and following her mother’s footsteps, sociology. It was during her college years that she became involved in the women’s liberation and anti-war movement. After volunteering for the Ames Women’s Community Health Center, Hodne worked as a paralegal in Dubuque training social organizers and creating relationships between labor organizations and rural activists. In 1982, Hodne worked as a grassroots organizer for the North American Farm Alliance and served as the first director of the organization. In response to the Farm Crisis of the 1980’s Hodne organized forums, conferences, and protests; drafting legislation aimed at reducing the impact of the crisis on those that were hit hardest, ordinary farm families, while simultaneously educating them about legal, social, and economic issues.


Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold, photo courtesy of Forest History Society Photograph Collection

Best known as the author of The Sand County Almanac, the “Father of Conservation” was born in Burlington, Iowa. With a Master Degree in Forestry this man began sharing his views to the general public


Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug, photo courtesy of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

Raised on a small family farm near Cresco, Iowa this biologist produced drought resistant wheat that would lead to him saving billions of lives worldwide from starvation. For this work he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. With a belief that work still needed to be done in increasing the quantity and quality of the world’s food supply, Borlaug created the World Food Prize.


Gary Vermeer


Gary Vermeer, photo courtesy of the Iowa Historian

Vermeer Manufacturing Company began in Pella, Iowa in 1948 with a man finding solutions to everyday problems. The invention that first caught people’s attention was a wagon hoist. Used to lift a corner of the wagon while unloading grain, it was no longer necessary to enter the wagon shovel out the remaining product. Gary invented other equipment, a right angle power takeoff drive, tile trencher, tree stump cutter, and tree spade. To aid a friend that was getting out of the cattle business because putting up small hay bales was too much work, Vermeer invented the large round baler. Round bales retained their shape, protected the hay and retained more of the nutrient content than square bales. A success! Vermeer now employs thousands of people and reaches across the globe.



Orland R. Sweeney


Orland R. Sweeney, photo courtesy of Iowa State University Archives

An ISU chemist, created ways to cook down corncobs and create a paper that worked as a binder to hold construction wall board together. With the success of this project, Quaker Oats approached him with a problem. How do they dispose of the oat hulls leftover from the production of oatmeal? The answer furfural. Furfural is a substitute for “plastics, to preserve milk, embalm dead animals, cure athlete’s foot, improve a bouquet of wines, manufacture golf tees, as a paint remover and much more” Duane A. Schmidt, Iowa Pride.


Ray Townsend


Ray Townsend, photo courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

Revolutionized the meat industry by solving a problem that repeatedly stumped the experts. In 1946, he invented a mechanized way of skinning beef, pork, fish and fowl. Instead of having a knife follow the contours of the animals skin, Townsend found a way to make the meat lay flat along a straight, stationary blade. Townsend also invented the Frank-a-Matic a machine that could make 30,000 frankfurters per hour. 80% of the nation’s bacon was processed after being injected with a Townsend Injector that introduced flavor and cure into the meat. Bert Benjamin-


Murray McMurray


Murray McMurray, photo courtesy of McMurray Hatchery

The world’s oldest and largest rare chicken breed hatchery is found in Iowa. Began by McMurray in 1917 in Webster City, Iowa, they served two customers in the beginning, the local farmer and mail order customers. Today, this family owned McMurray Hatchery continues to ship chicks all over the country but also has expanded to providing other fowl such as ducklings, goslings and game birds.


George M. Strayer


Jeanne & George M. Strayer, photo courtesy of the American Soybean Association

Soybeans are a common sight; one forgets they were introduced in to the United States from the Far East. Strayer and his father planted a small plot to introduce this experimental crop into northeast Iowa on their Hudson farm. The success and benefits of this high protein, nitrogen fixing plant began  the common corn-soybean rotation observed in Iowa fields today. Strayer’s largest accomplishment was establishing oversea markets for U.S. soybean farmers, Japan being the largest importer.