The More Things Change

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Finding 91-year-old copy of Nebraska Farmer sheds light on how much agriculture has changed, and how much it remains the same.

Published on: June 22, 2011

Finding 91-year-old copy of Nebraska Farmer sheds light on how much agriculture has changed, and how much it remains the same.


I was walking quickly from the second-hand store in Crofton, glancing on a table as I headed for the door. From the inside of a large, ziplock plastic bag, red letters, “Nebraska Farmer,” jumped out at me. A faded, torn and tattered copy of the January 24, 1920 issue of Nebraska Farmer looked too good to pass up.

I purchased the old copy of my favorite magazine, and enjoyed gleaning little bits of information from over nine decades ago, about farm life and farm business around our beloved state. On the cover, two farmers, axes in hand, were chopping wood in mid-winter. The inside cover was filled with farm advertising, much like today, but the ad was for a John Deere manure spreader with the innovation of a beater that was mounted on the axle. This was a big deal in 1920, and the ad touted how simple and easy the spreader was to operate. “There are only two levers to operate,” the ad said. “One throws the machine in and out of gear, and the other controls the number of loads per acre. Your boy can operate the John Deere Spreader with ease.” Makes me want to go out and buy one right now.

Politics played an important role in farming back then too. There was an article on how Nebraska’s income tax situation was discriminating against farmers. “Almost every farmer who was forced by a (tax) collector to change from the inventory to the cash basis last year had to pay more tax,” wrote University of Nebraska author, P.K. Whelpton.

In light of a new road financing law article that will appear soon in present-day Nebraska Farmer, I was interested to read all about paving efforts in 1920. “The problem of good roads is one that has confronted Nebraska farmers for a long time,” the article said. “But like every other progressive movement, it is slow to get here, though sure to come.” Fast forward to this spring, and farmers were saying the same thing. This might be soon alleviated to some extent, thanks to the new law pushed forward by Senator Deb Fischer of Valentine.

There was a section on innovations farmers can make at home to ease their work load on the farm. Some of the ideas were building a handy fire bellows, a quick way to remove a sickle section, how to build a loading chute and how to build a concrete culvert.

The editorial page, written by C.W. Pugsley, talked about the value of purebred sires in the herd, the problem of illiteracy among Nebraska’s children and the menace of corn borer. There were tons of ads for free seed books, including Burton’s 1920 Seed Book, the “biggest and best seed book published in the West,” the ad said. And be sure to purchase International Harvester tillage tools, including disk harrows, spring and peg tooth and combination harrows, culti-packers and other horsedrawn tillers. No-till farmers can skip this ad I guess.

Did you know that Semi-Solid Buttermilk is the “best hog and poultry feed on earth?” Yup. And the latest horse harness from the Boyt Harness Company is so futuristic, that it will be the harness of choice ten years from now (I guess that would be around 1930).

Poland China hogs seemed to be most popular in 1920. There were ads in the Livestock News section for purebred Poland China sales in Emerson, Davenport, Superior and Steele City. Durocs were also “in,” with sales set for Lexington, Cozad, David City and Rising City.

The old newspaper was yellowed and falling apart, so I set it aside to preserve the history within its pages. From my browsing, I learned that farmers in 1920 were concerned about roads, market prices, weather, taxes, machinery and new technology, pests and politics, but not necessarily in that order. I’m not sure some of the articles wouldn’t fit right in to our next issue.