History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Illinois (1851-1954)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-948436-72-4

Publication Date: 2020 Nov. 23

Number of References in Bibliography: 3738

Earliest Reference: 1851

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Brief Chronology/Timeline of Soybeans in Illinois

1851 – The first soybeans to arrive in Illinois were a gift to Dr. Benjamin Franklin Edwards from a crew of shipwrecked Japanese in San Francisco. On 29 April 1851 Dr. Edwards returned to Alton, Illinois, carrying the seeds with him. Dr. Edwards gave the seeds to Alton businessman Mr. John H. Lea, who planted them in his garden in the summer of 1851 (A.H. Ernst. 1853. Journal of the New York State Agricultural Society; Hymowitz 1987. “Introduction of the soybean to Illinois.” Economic Botany 41(1):28-32).

From Illinois soybeans were introduced to the rest of the Corn Belt (Hymowitz 1987).

1912 – Dr. William Leonidas joins the Dep. of Agronomy faculty at the University of Illinois. In about 1914 he began to take an interest in soybeans – when they were a virtually unknown crop. In 1915 he earned his PhD at the Univ. of Illinois.

1917 Oct. – The first (estimated) statistics on soybean acreage or production in Illinois are published in the Monthly Crop Report (USDA). The leading states are:

North Carolina 60,000 acres

Tennessee 50,000 acres

Illinois 30,000 acres

1920 March – Dr. W.L. Burlison becomes head, Dep. of Agronomy, University of Illinois. In Aug. 1920 he makes his first major appointment, Dr. C.M. Woodworth (also a graduate of Oklahoma A&M University). In Sept. 1920 Dr. Burlison is one of the organizers (in Indiana) of the American Soybean Growers’ Association – later renamed American Soybean Association.

1920 Oct. – The earliest known soy products to be made in Illinois are soy bean oil and meal, made by the Chicago Heights Oil Co., Chicago Heights, Illinois. The company is owned and run by Mr. I.C. Bradley (Letter from W.J. Morse to C.V. Piper. 1922. Sept. 22; Soybean Digest. 1945. May, p. 15).

1920 – The top four U.S. states in terms of soybean production this year are:

North Carolina 1,638,000 bu.

Virginia 70,000 bu

Alabama 228,000 bu

Illinois 92,000 bu

(Piper & Morse. 1923, p. 3)

1921 Sept. 1 – Second Annual Corn Belt Soybean Day. Held at Urbana and Tolono in Champaign County, Illinois. A 4-panel program describes the many events and demonstrations. “Noon – Soybean Luncheon for those who do not bring their own dinner.”

1922 Sep. 30 – A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. in Decatur, Illinois, starts processing soybeans “thus inaugurating a new industry for Central Illinois, and providing the growers of this territory with a market for their [soy] beans” (Staley Journal, p. 18-19).

1921 – The first active U.S. soybean genetics and breeding program begins at the University of Illinois. Dr. C.M. Woodworth is the first to look at the soybean from a technical, genetic point of view. That was when the first varieties started to be developed using genetic principles. He started the first hybridization program (Hymowitz 1988. Aug. 1).

1922 Sept. 30 – The 2nd earliest known soy products to be made in Illinois are soy bean oil and meal, made by the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co., Decatur, Illinois. The company is owned by Mr. A.E. Staley (Staley Journal. 1922. Sept. 30. “New soy bean plant in operation”).

1922 Sept. – The 3rd earliest known soy products to be made in Illinois are soy bean oil and meal, made by the East St. Louis Cotton Oil Co., East St. Louis, Clair Co., Illinois (Letter from J.C. Hackleman to W.J. Morse. 1922. Nov. 18).

1923 July 23 – Staley’s Soy Bean Health Flour is the first soyfood to be sold commercially in Illinois. It is advertised as being “especially good for diabetics” (Ad in Decatur Daily Review (Illinois). Nov. 22. p. 4).

1923 – A co-operative soybean mill, using solvent extraction, is established in Piatt County, Illinois. The capacity is 100-200 bushels/day of soybeans (Wallace’s Farmer, Feb. 23). "This ill-fated undertaking, sometimes referred to as the Monticello Grain Company, was apparently unable to cope with the scarcity of soybeans and was in operation only for about 6 months during 1923-24" (Markley and Goss 1944. p. 139-40).

1924 Oct. 25. Sat. – “More than 2,000 persons, including farmers, implement dealers, county agents and experiment station men, witnessed an interesting demonstration near Stonington, Ill., recently when a test was made of a Massey-Harris combined harvester-thresher in the harvesting and threshing of soy beans. The demonstration took place on the farm of Garwood Bros., who had arranged for the demonstration through Baughman Bros., implement dealers at Taylorville, Illinois.

“According to reports from men who were present, the outfit worked with entire satisfaction, and on the day of demonstration handled nearly thirty acres, harvesting, threshing and carrying the beans to the granary at a cost of about 5 cents per bushel” (Farm Implement News, Nov. 13, p. 11).

The use of a combine to harvest and thresh soybeans catapulted the crop into its bright future.

1924 – Illinois passes North Carolina to become the leading soybean producing state in the United States. Illinois held this lead dramatically until about 1980, when it as passed briefly by Iowa (Blue Book).

1936 April – The U.S. Regional Soybean Industrial Products Laboratory is founded at Urbana, Illinois, under the Bankhead-Jones Act. It quickly becomes the leading U.S. center of soybean research.

1945 June – The A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co. starts solvent extraction of soybeans in Decatur, Illinois.

1949 – The first comprehensive soybean germplasm collection in the USA is started at the University of Illinois by Martin G. Weiss of the USDA and Jackson L. Cartter of the U.S. Regional Soybean Laboratory at Urbana, Illinois (Hymowitz 1998, Aug. 9).

1954 – Illinois has remained the leading soybean producer in the United States since 1924. Most of these soybeans are crushed to make oil and meal. Soy oil is America’s #1 vegetable oil, and soybean meal is the main source of protein in livestock, poultry and aquaculture diets worldwide.

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