History of the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. Work with Soy (1867-2018)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-948436-02-1

Publication Date: 2018 June 15

Number of References in Bibliography: 847

Earliest Reference: 1880

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Brief Chronology/Timeline of A.E. Staley and the A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. Work with Soy

Background: This book owes much of its uniqueness to the Staley Museum and to their website on which is posted the digitized (searchable) Staley Journal; it contains more than 170 articles about the Staley company’s work with soybeans from 1922 to 1956.

1867 Feb. 26 Augustus Eugene Staley is born in a log cabin near Julian, Randolph County, North Carolina – the eldest child of William Staley and Mary Jane Ledbetter Staley. The three other children in the family are Georgiana, Arthur, and Wilhelmina (Forrestal. 1982. The Kernel & the Bean: The 75-Year Story of the Staley Company. p. 7).

For the best story of his boyhood years, which set many of the patterns for his entire life, see Shumway 1937.

1898 – A.E. Staley decides to go into business for himself, packaging and selling Cream Corn Starch. He makes his first sale on 3 March 1898 (Shumway 1937).

1898 Dec. 14 – A.E. Staley and Emma Louise Tressler are married in Bryan, Ohio. They make their home in Baltimore, Maryland. Their first child, Ione Tressler Staley, is born on 23 Jan. 1900.

1904 – A great fire in the city of Baltimore destroys many building, including Staley’s modest plant. A kind and friendly Quaker banker gives him the money to get started in business again. He soon decides to manufacture the starch himself. To raise money for a factory he sells stock to the 2,600 grocers who were regular buyers of his Cream Corn Starch. The company was incorporated in 1906 as A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company and by March 1907 shares were being sold for $100 each (Forrestal. 1982. Photo after page 6).

1909 – A.E. Staley, with his wife and five children, move to Decatur, Illinois. He purchases the former Wellington Starch Co. plant, a defunct corn processing plant, and begins renovations costing $150,000 (New York Times. 1940. Dec. 27, p. 20).

1912 March – The Staley Co. begins making corn starch in Decatur. Soon the factory is busy with a daily grind of 3,000 bushels of corn.

1913-1916 – Staley experiences a difficult period. At one point his plant was idle for 15 months and he almost went bankrupt and barely managed to survive, but he recovers skillfully (Shumway 1937).

1916 – Mr. Staley starts to promote the idea of growing soybeans among farmers in the Decatur area. “The possibilities in this field were the subject of many discussions with farmers who called in the Staley company's corn buying department or who talked with the company's grain buyers in surrounding towns, during the years between 1916 and 1922. Mr. Staley's confidence that an industry would some time be established in this country made many farmers receptive to the idea of growing soybeans. Such interest began to produce tangible results in the late years of the War when the productivity of Illinois corn land had been diminished because farmers had neglected crop rotation in an effort to take greatest advantage of high wartime prices on corn. In this situation, the wisdom and expedience of growing soybeans became apparent; the number of acres planted in soybeans in Illinois and the number of bushels threshed, increased accordingly” (Staley Journal. 1936. July, p. 3-9).

1919 – A sports fan always eager to explore new vistas, Gene Staley pioneered the idea of professional football in America. His Decatur Staleys, composed of men who worked in his plant and played “industrial league” football, went on to become the Chicago Bears (Forrestal, p. 39-45).

1921 Nov. 22 – Soybeans are first mentioned in connection with the Staley Co. in an article in the Decatur Herald (p. 3). It begins: “The A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. will have the only soy bean mill in the United States next year, said F.B. Anderson, vice president of the V.D. Anderson Co., of Cleveland, Ohio, makers of oil pressing machinery, when he was here Monday to consult company officials about the installation of machinery for the proposed plant.

“The Anderson Co. installed the corn oil machinery in the Staley plant.”

1922 June – The Staley company issues “Announcement number one” which states: “The A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company announces that in response to the general and urgent desire on the part of farmers in Central Illinois, it has been decided to install a soybean plant in conjunction with the Decatur starch and glucose manufactory.

“A satisfactory building is now in readiness. Several expellers have been purchased and delivered. Bean dryers are under construction. Storage for 150,000 bushels of beans is ready for use. The plant is planned so that large increases in capacity may be had without expensive changes. The first unit will have a capacity of about 500 bushels a day. It will be finished in ample time for the 1922 harvested crop” (Staley Journal, p. 5-11; this is the earliest article that mentions soy in this journal).

“During the winter and early spring of 1922, Staley's selling 'blitz' began paying off. Letters had come in from 60 Illinois towns, and even a few from neighboring states, inquiring about soybean processing. Staley answered all the letters personally, outlining his plans and probable prices. He suggested those interested in soybean culture contact the University of Illinois College of Agriculture for the best agronomic methods and recommended alternate varieties to use. Staley stated in his letters that if his plant should prove successful, he would increase the size and capacity to meet needs.

“That spring Illinois farmers planted more than 135,000 acres of soybeans, more than five times as many as the previous year. That summer Staley sent representatives out along the country roads to see how the soybean crop was progressing. During the summer Staley's men talked with 125 farmers, 137 grain elevator operators, 11 seed houses, 25 county extension advisers, and a large number of bankers and the news media. Everywhere they went, they left pamphlets expounding the virtues of the soybean as the great crop of the future” (Windish. 1981, p. 59-70).

The Staley expellers started crushing soybeans in Oct. 1922 and operated “quite steadily for 4 months. The total days operated in 1922 was 74, but by March, after 57 days' operation in 1923, no more beans could be obtained and consequently the plant had to be closed down. Increased expeller capacity installed in February, 1923, however, made the grind for that year, in spite of fewer days' operation, 38,554 bushels as compared to 26,213 bushels in 1922.” Despite financial losses each year, Mr. Staley refused to give up (Staley Journal. 1936. July, p. 3-9).

Mr. Staley did all of his work with soybeans after age 50 and all of his work crushing soybeans after age 55.

1924 Oct. – “The soy bean and commerce,” by W.V. Cullison, an excellent 5-page article, appears in the Staley Journal (p. 5-10; See Staley Museum website).

1925 – “Promotional work pays: One of the factors responsible for the turn in affairs in the soybean business after 1925 was undoubtedly the concentration of promotional activities in a new department of the Staley organization, the soybean department, under a newly employed expert on soybeans. The effort of this department was principally directed towards securing an adequate supply of beans for the Staley plant using methods which would bring results both immediate and in future years (Staley Journal. 1936. July, p. 3-9).

Mr. Staley’s persistence and faith founded and developed the country's soybean processing industry, Soybean meal was almost unknown in the USA and there was a limited demand for soybean oil – the two products resulting from crushing soybeans. So Staley started again to educate potential customers. For this he made extensive use of ads and articles in the Staley Journal (Staley Journal. 1939. Aug., p. 4-13).

1925 ca – In the mid-1920s, as he approached age 60, A.E. Staley, a workaholic, is diagnosed with “diabetes and its incessant discomforts; he tried to stay on a rigid diet but was not often successful. Gaining weight (to a high of 278 pounds) didn’t help.” (Forrestal. 1982, p. 68-69).

1926 – Staley launches Health Flour, a low-fat soy flour. This is the company’s first consumer retail product (Horvath. 1927. p. 47-48; Staley Journal. 1939. Aug., p. 13).

1927 March-April – The Staley company works with the Illinois Central Railroad Company. The Illinois College of Agriculture, and Southern Illinois Normal University to launch a “Soil and Soybean Special” from March 28 until April 16. The train made 105 scheduled stops at towns located on the Illinois Central lines, from Freeport and Galena in the northern part of the state to Mounds and Metropolis in the southern part.

"The special was made up of six cars; an office car containing eating and sleeping quarters for the officials who were in charge of the train, a car containing an exhibit of soybean products prepared at the Staley plant in Decatur, a car containing a soil, soybean and European Corn Borer exhibit prepared at the University of Illinois, two motion picture cars and a lecture car.

"According to H.J. Schwietert, general development agent of the Illinois Central, the train was operated to encourage farmers to grow more soybeans. The Illinois Central officials believe the results obtained justified the operation of the train; 33,939 people passed through the train during the period of operation. The total distance traveled was 2,478 miles." (Staley Journal. 1927. May, p. 10-11; Staley Journal. 1936, July, p. 3-9).

1931 – Staley begins manufacturing a liquid soy sauce derived from hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, blended with sugar, salt, and caramel color (Krukar 2004).

1932 March 15 – A.E. Staley, Sr., at the annual meeting of the company’s board of directors, announces that he will step down as company president; his eldest son, A.E. Staley, Jr. “was elected president.” The father will remain chairman of the board (Forrestal, p. 100).

1933 – Staley launches Staley Soy Sauce, a fermented product (Food Industries. 1935. Feb., p. 66-67).

1934 March – The story about a missionary giving a handful of soybeans to Gene Staley when he was a boy first appears in an article by H.T. Morris in the Staley Journal (p. 3-11). Mr. Staley started promoting soybeans in about 1916-1921, but he waited at least 13 years before he got around to telling the story of the missionary. This story is told at least 22 times in this book, each time somewhat differently. In one retelling, for example, the missionary is a woman.

This same article by Morris first introduces the idea that the soil was being “corned to death.” He continues: “Unheard of prices during the World War were an incentive to plant more and more corn. The scheme of crop rotating had been neglected. Farmers complained of low yield. They were, relatively speaking, harvesting nubbins [stunted, undeveloped ears of corn] instead of well matured ears.”

1934 July – “Soybeans are salvation” in the Staley Journal (p. 17-18) is the earliest document seen that contains the term “F.O.B Decatur.” Eventually this term was used in setting the price of soybeans throughout the soybean industry. Why? In large part because the A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. began buying soybeans in Decatur, Illinois.

1935 Jan. – Staley starts to use the tagline “Staley customer never guesses – he knows!” in advertisements. Meaning: The customer knows the exact composition and quality of the product he plans to buy from Staley (Staley Journal).

1936 Jan. – Staley launches Pea Size Soybean Oil Meal, made by forming soybean meal into pellets. Renamed Pea-Size Soybean Oil Meal Pellets by Dec. 1938. These pellets now contain either 41% protein or 37% protein. Staley was the world’s first company to make such pellets which keep their form when fed outdoors in the snow or rain (Staley Journal).

1936 July 19 – Decatur, Illinois, is first referred to as “soybean capitol of America.” Note: The word “capitol” should correctly be spelled “capital.” (Decatur Sunday Herald and Review, p. 1).

1936 Sept. – Staley launches Staley's Packers Grits, Sausage Flour, and Soy Flour. These three soy products are “for the Baking Industry” (Ad in Proceedings of the American Soybean Assoc. 1936. Inside front cover). By Sept. 1938 two of the names have been changed slightly to Staley’s Packers Soy Grits and Staley’s Bakery Soy Flour.

1936 Oct. – Staley now has 15 commercial soy products for sale (Staley Journal. 1936. Oct., p. 3-12).

1937 Aug. 29 – Decatur, Illinois, is first referred to as “soybean capital of the world” (Decatur Herald and Review, p. 13, col. 1, paragraph 2). Henry Bolz is widely credited with coining this phrase. He worked for the Association of Commerce in Decatur, and would often address the public on radio station WJBL in a booming voice announcing: “This is Henry Bolz coming to you from the Soybean Capital of the World” (Becky Damptz, Local History Librarian, Decatur Public Library) (Herald & Review. 1984. Nov. 14, p. A3).

1939 Sept. – Staley opens a soybean crushing plant in Painesville, Ohio (Ad in Proceedings of the American Soybean Assoc. 1939. Inside front cover).

1940 Dec. 26 – Augustus Eugene Staley, age 73 years 10 months, dies in Miami, Florida. The tributes to this great man pour in from every quarter, from his employees to the city of Decatur. His funeral is huge. He is buried in the Fairlawn Cemetery mausoleum in Decatur (Decatur Herald. 1940. Dec. 27, p. 1-18).

Illinois is now by far America’s leading producer of soybeans. And most of the soybeans in Illinois are grown within a radius of about 125 miles from Decatur.

“Soybean oil is fast attaining its proper place in the edible field. More than 82½ per cent of all soybean oil produced in the United States is now being used in human food products. Shortening takes 52 per cent, margarine uses 21 per cent, and other edible products such as salad oils consume nearly 10 per cent” (Staley Journal. 1941. Nov., p. 5-8).

Staley remains the largest soybean crusher in America, with the second and third largest also being located in Decatur, Illinois (Windish. 1981. p. 59-70).

1940 Dec. 27 – “Often Mr. Staley was referred to as the ‘father of the soybean industry.’ Not only did he sell the farmers of Central Illinois on growing the beans, but he created an enormous market with the constant building of his industry” (Decatur Daily Review, p. 16).

This is the earliest document seen that makes this claim about Mr. Staley. The same claim was also made about William J. Morse of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We believe both men deserve the title but for very different reasons.

1943 Oct. – Staley launches Stoy Soy Flour (low-fat expeller-type). It is the company’s 2nd consumer soy product (Soybean Digest. 1943. Nov., p. 8). By July 1944 it is accompanied by The Stoy Cook Book (48 p.; attractive and comprehensive). During World War II, the USA had a major campaign to reduce use of wheat flour. Soy flour – if used in the right proportions – could help to yield delicious, protein-rich products.

1944 March – Staley launches Powdered Soya-Lo-Fat, and Powdered Soya-Hi-Fat - Soya Flours for the baking industry (Staley Journal. April, p. 5-9).

1945 Sept. – Staley launches Staley’s Edsoy Soybean Oil. The “edible oil” is designed for use in the sardine canning oil for packing the famous little fish – and for replacing olive oil, which is much more expensive (Staley Journal. 1940. Sept., p. 5-10).

1945 Oct. – Staley starts crushing soybeans in its new $2,000,000 solvent extraction plant at Decatur, Illinois. This new plant will enable Staley to process approximately 50% more soybeans (Staley Journal. 1945. June, p. 4-16).

1947 May – Staley launches Sta-Sol Lecithin (Solid or Liquid; Bleached or Natural). (Decatur Daily Review. 1947. May 16, p. 4).

1948 Dec.Business Week (magazine) features A.E. “Gus” Staley, Jr. on the cover. Part of the story notes that Staley is one of America’s four major makers of monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer, which is sold under the brand-name Zest (Staley Journal. 1948. Dec., p. 16, 24).

1950 Feb. – Staley launches Hi-Pro-Con, a new 50% soybean meal that contains 50% fiber and especially heat treated to give it low urease activity (Soybean Digest. 1950. Feb., p. 48; Soybean Digest. 1954. Sept., p. 31).

1955 Dec. – Staley is now the largest U.S. maker of soy sauce, but none is sold “under its own label. The entire output of the Decatur, Illinois, firm is sold in drums or tankers to manufacturers and bottlers who use it in their own products or in blending their own brands of soy sauce.” “The company began experimenting with making soy sauce about 25 years ago [i.e. about 1930]. Staley's sauce is made by acid hydrolysis of soy grits from which the oil has been extracted” (Soybean Digest. p. 14-15).

1965 – Staley starts its first soybean crushing plant outside the United States – making soy oil and soybean meal. It is named Socieded Iberica de Molturacion, S.A. or SIMSA,” located at Ponteos, Santander, Madrid 1, Spain. DeSmet solvent plant, capacity 350 metric tons of soybeans per day (Soybean Digest. 1964. June, p. 21; Soybean Digest Blue Book issue. 1965. p. 108).

1969 June – The Staley Co. closes its Painesville, Ohio, soybean crushing plant (Soybean Digest. 1969. July p. 36).

1969 – Staley starts its 2nd soybean crushing plant outside the United States. It is named IBEROL (Sociedade Iberica de Oleaginosas S.A.R.L.), located at Alhandra, Lisbon, Portugal. DeSmet solvent system (Soybean Digest Blue Book issue. 1969. p. 107).

1969 July 27 – A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. acquires Gunther Products, a pioneer in the field of modified (enzyme hydrolyzed) soy whipping proteins. Gunther had been founded in 1948, incorporated in 1949 (Decatur Herald. 1969. July 27, p. 15).

1970 – Staley launches Mira-Tex 100, and Mira-Tex 200 (Textured Soy Flour) from its plant at Decatur (Food Engineering. 1970. July, p. 161).

1972 March – Staley launches Vytal (textured soy flour for use in dog food) (Soybean Digest Blue Book. 1972, p. 111).

1972 July – Staley launches Mira-Tex 315 (imitation unflavored mushrooms), and Mira-Tex 310-7, and 310-8 (imitation red and green bell peppers) (Food Processing. 1972. Foods of Tomorrow insert. Summer/July. p. F12-13).

1972 – Staley hits the jackpot, when it launches IsoSweet, a line of high fructose corn syrups (HFCSs) They are made with a new enzyme, in addition to the two used with previous corn syrups. Some types of IsoSweet “could properly be called as sweet as sugar – or more so.” It eventually made Staley “Number One in the world” of corn sweeteners as it eventually "replaced billions of pounds of sugar in most of America's major soft drinks” (Forrestal. 1982, p. 205).

1973 May – A.E. Staley Jr., who is ailing, formally turns over his position as chief executive to Donald Nordlund, age 52, a former attorney from Chicago, who has already taken big steps toward revitalizing the company and positioning it to take better advantage of the world's need for food.

1973 Nov. – Staley launches Burger Bonus (Hamburger Extender with Textured Soy Flour) (Advertising Age. Nov. 5. p. 1, 75).

1974 – Staley’s Gunther Products Div. launches Gunther Whipping Proteins (Soybean Digest Blue Book. 1974, p. 124).

1976 March – Staley purchases four soybean crushing plants from Swift & Co., located at Des Moines, Iowa; Champaign, Illinois; Frankfort, Indiana; and Fostoria, Ohio. It also purchases Swift’s Mellasoy (Edible Defatted Soy Flour), and Mellabits (Edible Defatted Soy Grits). During the next three years, Staley generated enough soybean earnings to pay for the cost of the four Swift plants. During the ten year period starting in 1971, Staley's total sales (not just soy) skyrocketed from $300 million to $2 billion. Net earnings (profit) rose from $5.5 million to $105 million (Forrestal 1982, p. 242-43; Soybean Digest Blue Book. 1976. p. 44; Wall Street Journal. 1976. March 3, p. 14).

1976 Dec. – Staley launches Textured Procon (Textured Soy Protein Concentrate) (Food Product Development. Dec., p. 40).

1980 ca. – Vico SSD (soy sauce dried) Seasoning Powder is launched by the Vico Products Div. of the A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. The product is composed of soy sauce solids (i.e. hydrolyzed vegetable protein, corn syrup solids, salt, and caramel coloring) on a dextrin base. It has a natural “meaty” flavor (Manufacturer’s catalog. Staley Protein Products. 1980).

1983 Dec. – Staley closes its soybean crushing plant in Decatur, causing the loss of 50 jobs. The mill had a daily crushing capacity of 125,000 bushels and was the largest of the firm's six soybean processing plants (Herald & Review. 1984. Nov. 14, p. 1, A3).

1984 Jan. – Although Staley has stopped crushing soybeans at its main plant in Decatur, the company does not plan to sell the plant. They plan to use it to make soybean flakes to process into flour, from which they will make textured soy flour, soy protein concentrates and isolates. Staley now buys its flakes from other companies. (Interview with N.R. “Dick” Lockmiller, manager of government relations at Staley. Jan. 9).

1984 Nov. 13 – Staley, the oldest existing soybean crusher in the United States (for 62+ years), announces that it has retained an outside consultant to analyze and explore alternatives relating to its soybean processing operations, including their possible sale. The reason: Narrow crushing margins, a depressed export market for U.S. soybean meal, and poor profitability.

Net sales from soybean operations are in excess of $700,000,000 in fiscal 1984 (Staley Annual Report. 1984. p. 36).

1984 Nov. – Cola approvals of HFCS: “The most significant development of the fiscal year occurred in November 1984 when Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Royal Crown approved the use of high fructose corn syrup at 100 percent sugar replacement levels in their respective colas. The moves were of such magnitude that they literally changed the HFCS market overnight” (Staley Continental, Inc. 1985 [Dec.]. Annual Report, p. 9).

1984 Nov. – A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. acquires CFS Continental, Inc., the nation's second largest food distributor. “The Beginning. A New Company. Its First Year” (Staley Continental, Inc. Annual report. 1985 [Dec.], cover, p. 2, p. 19).

1985 Jan. 12 – A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. announces that it is basically getting out of the soybean crushing business. It has sold five of its six soybean plants (having a combined crushing capacity of some 275,000 bushels daily) to Independent Soy Processors (ISP) Co., which includes Archer Daniels Midland as a minority shareholder. The mills have been leased to, and are being operated by ADM. Staley was unable to sell its Decatur facility, which ceased operations indefinitely in Jan. 1984 (Wall Street Journal. 1985. Jan. 14, p. 8).

With this transaction ADM probably regained a slight lead as America's largest soybean crusher.

1985 Feb. – Staley Continental Inc. is established from the reorganization of the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. The new company is a diversified corn refiner and foodservice distributor, with a new address: One Continental Towers, 1701 Golf Road, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008 (Staley Continental, Inc. Annual report. 1985 [Dec.], p. 2).

1985 Oct. – The new company finalizes plans to divest its soy protein concentrate business. Operations in Decatur (Illinois) and Muskogee (Oklahoma) are involved. “The company will retain two other soy protein-based food ingredient lines – the Gunther Products soy protein whipping agents and the Vico Products hydrolyzed vegetable proteins… Sales of Vico soy sauce also were strong, reflecting the popularity of Oriental cuisine in this country.” (Staley Continental, Inc. Annual report. 1985 [Dec.], p. 3, 18).

1986 Feb. – Staley Continental, Inc. has sold its soy protein concentrate business to Central Soya Company, Inc. (Wall Street Journal. 1986. March 24. p. 54). The Staley soy protein line includes Mira-Tex textured soy flour, and Procon and Textured Procon, soy protein concentrates and textured soy protein concentrates, respectively (Food Technology. 1986. April, p. 101).

1988 May – Tate & Lyle PLC, a British-based multinational agribusiness company, acquires ownership of the A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. (Wall Street Journal. 1989. Feb. 9, p. 1, A12).

1995 April – Quest International acquires Gunther Products (Galesburg, Illinois) from Staley. (Food Technology, p. 42). Quest International is a unit of Unilever.

2013 April – The Staley Museum buys the largely restored Staley family home at 361 N. College St. from Dennis and Jana Drew.

2016 April 9 – The new Staley Museum (in Decatur) is first open to the public. Director: Laura Jahr.

A Key Question:

Did Staley “establish the first commercial soybean crushing plant in the United States – in 1922” – as Forrestal (1982, p. 206) claims? No!

1st – 1911. Albers Milling Co. (Seattle, Washington). Crushed soybeans imported from Manchuria for less than 1 year.

2nd – 1915. Elizabeth City Oil and Fertilizer Co. (a cottonseed crusher in Elizabeth City, North Carolina), crushed soybeans grown in America (probably in North Carolina). Other North Carolina cottonseed oil mills soon followed suit, and by the spring of 1916 mills in at least nine North Carolina cities and towns had crushed about 80,000 to 100,000 bushels (2,177 to 2,722 tonnes) of soybeans. By 1917 some 150,000 bushels (4,050 tonnes) of local soybeans had been crushed.

3rd – 1920. Chicago Heights Oil Manufacturing Co. (located just south of Chicago, Illinois; run by George Brett and I Clark Bradley. They were the first to crush soybeans in the Corn Belt; the soybeans were purchased from North Carolina and Virginia. In late 1917 or early 1918 they experimentally crushed a small amount of soybeans grown in the Corn Belt. The company went out of business in Aug. 1923 for lack of enough soybeans to keep the mill supplied (J. of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. 1984. Sept., p. 1437-38).

4th - 1922. Sept. 30. The A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. (Decatur, Illinois) first crushes soybeans, grown in Illinois, using expellers.

If Staley was not first, why is he so often given credit for being first? Because those few who went before him were small and did not last. Staley overcame countless obstacles and became the largest, and for a long time the oldest, soybean crusher in the United States (J. of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. 1984. Sept., p. 1437-38).

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