Henry Agard Wallace was born in Adair County, Iowa, Oct. 7, 1888, and the Interstate 80 rest area in that county honors him. Wallace had a fascinating career. He was editor of the family magazine Wallace’s Farmer, which advocated scientific farming, soil conservation and best practices. He experimented with corn and wheat hybrids, founding what later became Pioneer Hi-Bred, a major seed company.
He later succeeded his father, Henry Cantwell Wallace, as Secretary of Agriculture. H.C. Wallace had been Secretary in the Coolidge Administration. The only other Iowan to reach higher political office than H.A. Wallace, Herbert Hoover, also served in the Coolidge Cabinet, as Secretary of Commerce. H.C. Wallace and Hoover feuded over corn and hog reimbursements. The elder Wallace eventually died of toxemic poisoning while worn out from fighting Hoover. The younger Wallace blamed Hoover for his father’s death. “I felt, almost, as if Hoover had killed my father.”
When Wallace became Secretary of Agriculture in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, he reversed many of the Hoover Administration’s farm policies and began paying farmers to reduce production, hoping to drive up prices. His policies greatly shaped the Department of Agriculture’s future because he also advocated food stamps and school lunch programs. He pushed soil conservation in response to the Dust Bowl.
This achievement is graphically presented at the Adair rest area. The poles show the decline of soil depth beginning in 1850 until 2000. The Dust Bowl was a painful object lesson on the ineffectiveness of current tilling practices, which encouraged erosion instead of curbing it.
FDR tabbed Wallace to be his running mate in the 1940 election, ramming through his selection over the reluctance of party leaders. The 1940 convention was so upset by Wallace’s nomination that he felt it best to not make an acceptance speech. Wallace’s vice-presidency was the forerunner to the modern vice-presidency. He was “another set of eyes and ears” for FDR. He chaired the Board of Economic Warfare until pushed aside by politics and also traveled worldwide on FDR’s behest.
Unfortunately, Wallace was naive.
FDR sent him on a trip to the Soviet Union and China. While in the USSR, he was shown “Potemkin villages”, false replicas of labor camps that were working people to death until Joseph Stalin’s tyranny. Some believe Wallace was actually a Soviet asset, working against his own government.
While Wallace was globe-trotting on behalf of his President, Roosevelt was busy dumping him from the 1944 election ticket in favor of Sen. Harry Truman of Missouri. As a sop to Wallace’s pride, Roosevelt moved him to Secretary of Commerce, ironically Hoover’s old post.
Eighty-two days into his fourth term, Roosevelt died.
Truman fired Wallace as his Secretary of Commerce in 1946 over a disagreement about Truman’s policies toward the Soviet Union. Wallace then ran for President on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948, a curious four-way contest between Truman, Republican Thomas E. Dewey and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. Wallace whitewashed Soviet intentions, even attacking the Berlin Airlift that saved West Berlin from Soviet takeover.
The Korean War finally woke up Wallace to Communist intentions. He later wrote Why I Was Wrong in 1952, explaining that his former support of Stalin was based on limited information and that he now considered himself an anti-Communist. He supported Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, then Richard Nixon in 1960.
Wallace retired to his experimental farm in New York, then died in Danbury, Conn., in 1965.
Price Otto von Bismarck is supposed to have said, “The Lord takes care of babes, fools, and the United States.” Never has that proved more true than when Harry Truman became President instead of Henry Wallace.
However, Wallace left a great legacy in agriculture, so great that the world’s largest agricultural research facility in Beltsville, Md., is named for him: The Henry A. Wallace
Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. In a very real sense, Harry Truman saved the world and Henry Wallace feeds it.
For more on Henry Wallace read his biography: American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace
My slide show of the Adair rest area:
To see pictures full screen or to purchase them, click on the “visit gallery” link here or in the slide show.GHTime Code(s): 8bc48 nc nc nc nc