The Wallace Family – An Iowa Agricultural Dynasty
The Wallaces were known as one of Iowa’s most famous and respected farm families of the twentieth century. Three generations of men – each one having the first name of Henry – became important agricultural leaders in the state and the nation. They all had a love of the soil and believed in providing service to humanity, whichbecame the Wallace tradition. All three became national leaders in their field.
The First Henry Wallace – “Uncle Henry”
Henry Wallace was born in 1836 in Western Pennsylvania. He was an ordained minister after finishing his theological studies at Monmouth College in Illinois. The “first” Henry Wallace taught school for two years at Columbia College in Kentucky and in an academy at West Newton. He left Kentucky and came to Iowa as a minister. He spent time as pastor in both Morning Sun and Davenport. In 1877 he resigned his ministry and moved his family to Winterset. By that time he also owned three farms in Adair County. While living in Winterset he had his first taste of being a writer. He wrote a page on agriculture in the local paper but would soon buy a newspaper of his own. From that time on Uncle Henry and his family would never be without a place to air their views.
Uncle Henry believed that farming was the noblest work of humans. He had articles printed in more and more Midwestern papers. In 1883 he became the editor of Iowa Homestead. In 1895 he bought a little paper called the Farm and Dairy. Uncle Henry was 60 years old when he founded the family paper. The paper’s name was changed to Wallaces’ Farmer.
Uncle Henry originally planned to deal just with the problems of Iowa farmers. Over the years Wallaces’ Farmer grew into a national weekly publication dedicated to the interests of farmers throughout the United States. It began to provide more than just farm news. It also included a woman’s page and a weekly Sunday school lesson. Each week the top of the paper carried the motto “Good Farming, Clear Thinking, Right Living.”
Through his paper Uncle Henry began to study Iowa farm problems. He pioneered crop rotation and fertilization of crops as ways to save farmland. He wrote about dairying and cultivating and grass. Uncle Henry told his readers that “Land will wear out unless it is put back to grass.” (Hawkeye Adventure p.293) He envisioned great improvements that could be made in farm life.
In 1895 he served as one of twelve educators asked to study the rural school system. The report from this committee was referred to for many years regarding rural school problems.
In 1908, when Uncle Henry was 70 years old, President Theodore Roosevelt asked him to head up the Country Life Commission. This group investigated and reported on farming conditions in the country. The report findings the were quoted for years after the report came out.
For over 30 years he was known as one of Iowa’s best loved citizens. “Uncle Henry” Wallace died in 1916. He left the Wallaces’ Farmer operation to his son Henry C. Wallace. The paper started by Uncle Henry was used by three generations of Wallace family members as a voice of agriculture.
Henry C. Wallace - “Harry”
Henry C. Wallace was called “Harry” to keep from confusing him with his father. He attended Iowa State College in the late 1880s. He left school to take over the family farm near Orient in Adair County. Harry and his wife lived in the tenant house on the family farm, called Catalpa.
In 1892 Harry decided to return to Iowa State College to complete his college degree. He realized the farmers’ problems needed a more scientific approach. The family rented a run-down house on the outskirt of Ames. They had almost no income. Harry crowded two years of schooling into one. He wanted to become a professor at the college.
Harry stayed on at Iowa State for two years after graduating as professor of dairying. He often invited his associates and students to visit his home. One young professor invited to the Wallace home for food and companionship was George Washington Carver.
In Ames Harry became a partner in a small paper called the Farm and Dairy. He wrote articles about experiments conducted on college farms and in the classrooms. This paper was later sold to Harry’s father, Henry Wallace, and would be known as Wallaces’ Farmer. Harry Wallace left Ames in 1896 and moved to Des Moines. He became the associate editor of Wallaces’ Farmer. In 1916 Harry Wallace became editor of the paper after his father’s death. He carried on his father’s work and assumed his place in public life. Wallaces’ Farmer continued to grow.
Harry Wallace served as the editor of the Wallaces’ Farmer for 26 years. In 1921 he was named secretary of agriculture under President Warren G. Harding. Harry’s son, Henry A. Wallace, succeeded him as the next editor of Wallaces’ Farmer in 1921 when Harry became secretary of agriculture. He took office about eight months after the farm depression had struck. He was responsible for bringing the phrase “Farm Relief” to the public. This was a concept of helping manage crop supply and also helping farmers with new technologies. This phrase would often appear in future political campaign platforms.
Henry C. ”Harry” Wallace died in 1924.
Henry A. Wallace – “Young Henry”
Henry A. Wallace had a lifelong interest in food and agriculture, making lasting contributions to these fields. Henry A. Wallace loved learning and experimenting. Growing up, George Washington Carver and Henry A. formed a lifetime friendship. Carver was a frequent guest in the Wallace home. They often went on long walks around the fields and meadows of Ames. George Washington Carver taught the 6-year-old how to identify different parts and species of plants.
Henry A. inherited his deep religious feeling for the soil and his practical drive to get things done from his grandfather “Uncle Henry” Wallace. Henry A. patterned his life on the Wallace family values of religious devotion, sense of duty and love of agriculture. His own motto was “Peace, Prosperity and Equality.”
In 1910 after he graduated from Iowa State, Henry A. began corn-breeding experiments that took up much of his time and interest for the next 20 years. In 1926 he founded Hi-Bred Corn Company later known as Pioneer Hi-Bred Corn Company.
During the time he served as editor of Wallaces’ Farmer, Henry A. became a very good writer. As editor and author he wrote important works on agriculture practices and economics. He wrote his most useful and widely read book Corn and the Corn Grower while editor. Henry A. served as editor of the family paper from 1921 until 1933.
Henry A. Wallace experienced political prominence and responsibilities that his father and grandfather never had. Like his father, he became secretary of agriculture. From 1933 through 1940 he served as secretary of agriculture during President Franklin Roosevelt’s second term, and then served as vice president during Roosevelt’s third term in office. Henry A. Wallace changed the face of American agriculture during and after his time as secretary of agriculture. He served as secretary of commerce in the Truman administration. He ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948 and lost. He then retired from politics.
Henry A. Wallace died in 1965. He was an agricultural pioneer in working with hybrid corn. He left a lasting influence on American agriculture as a scientist, agriculturalist, journalist, public official, economist, author, statesman and humanitarian.
In December 1999 the Des Moines Register named Henry A. Wallace the “Most Influential Iowan of the 20th Century.” His influence was felt in Iowa, the nation and around the world. He raised the Wallace mission to serve humanity to an international level.
The Wallace House is the rebuilt and restored home of the first Henry Wallace. It is located in the Sherman Hills National Historic District near downtown Des Moines. Through various exhibits the Wallace House Foundation showcases the influences the Wallace family had on Iowa, the nation and the world ( www.wallace.org)
A Lasting Legacy
The three generations of Wallace’s helped bring about major changes in American farming, food production methods as well as American and world politics. The Wallace’s always spoke out for what they believed to be right. They did not back away from controversy. They accepted the consequences of their words and actions. They believed in doing what was right for farmers. They were honest and direct in making known the problems of the farmers. New ideas were presented to readers. New methods of production were encouraged as solutions to problems. The Wallace’s showed how to use science in every aspect of farming. They dedicated their lives to agriculture and the soil.