I was born in Illinois and spent the first seven years of my life in that state. We eventually moved from there—spent a few years in a neighboring state before we finally landed in Florida, where I’ve been ever since.
The bulk of my Illinois years was spent in DeKalb. I don’t know what got me thinking about “home” in the last week, but I found myself pondering DeKalb. Interestingly, my musings weren’t directly about my time there and the specific memories I had of the place (although I had a lovely childhood with great recollections of those years). No, instead, I found myself pondering a symbol. A picture. One that, the moment I see it, has the power to make me miss a place I haven’t been since I was a small girl.
The DeKalb Flying Corn. (Caveat: I realize that today, this is a symbol for a Monsanto company, and there are a jillion different feelings on Monsanto and GMO’s—but that’s not what this post is about. Let’s keep any and all comments classy, please!)
I occasionally see this sign adorning the walls of a Cracker Barrel restaurant. I’ve seen it in a museum in St. Augustine, Florida. And I have watched it flash past my car window a million of times as we drove past miles and mile (and miles!) of cornfields between the airport in Omaha, Nebraska, and my mother-in-law’s home in Iowa. And not once in those “in the wild” sightings has this symbol failed to wash me in nostalgia. It is the symbol of my childhood, and attached to it are so many memories. Days spent wearing cut-off jean shorts with the strings tickling my legs, playing in the sprinkler in my backyard on a warm summer day, visits to the bookmobile when it stopped outside my home, swimming at the community pool at Hopkins Park, and the time I got lost in a store and feared I’d never see my mom again (yeah…maybe that memory isn’t the best, but it turned out well! LOL) This symbol draws me back across the years to times when we walked miles to the park for Fourth of July concerts and fireworks displays, of friends gathered around our patio for summer parties, of my best friend and her mom walking down the street for play dates, and going to town for the annual corn festival. For me, this sign evokes memories of old friends and carefree days like no other symbol can.
So…where did the sign come from? What inspired it? The logo came about in 1935 when a group from the DeKalb Agricultural Association set out to promote their hybrid corn variety. Hybrid corn was a new concept in that era, so they knew they needed to get the word out. What developed was an ear of corn with the town’s name written across it. But they wanted something that would set it apart. As the gentlemen pondered, they looked out the window and saw another famous sign. The Mobil Pegasus logo. They all agreed that the wings were an interesting image, and so they began playing with versions until they settled on what became known as DeKalb’s Flying Ear. It evolved across the years into the version you see above. But it has become an enduring image known to farmers around the world.
My Hometown’s second claim to fame is even older than the first—and it had a direct effect on the Old West that I love so much. Do you know what it is?
While barbed wire (also known as “barb wire”…or even “bob wire”) was initially conceptualized by Leonce Eugene Grassin-Beledans of France in 1860, the father of modern barbed wire was a DeKalb resident, Mr. Joseph Glidden.
Glidden was a farmer in the area in the 1870s, and in 1873, he attended a fair held in town. There, he saw an earlier version of the product. Picture a long strip of wood with metallic spikes protruding from it, and you’ll have a good idea of what Mr. Glidden saw. But the “Wooden Strip with Metallic Points,” which was patented in 1873, wasn’t very practical. Glidden set out to make a more durable, more cost-effect version of the livestock-deterring fence and began experimenting with twisting two separate wires into one, with metal barbs interspersed every few inches.
|Original Patent Request for "The Winner"|
style barbed wire by Joseph Glidden.
Isaac L. Ellwood, an acquaintance of Glidden’s and a hardware store owner in the area, was also experimenting with his own versions of the wire fencing but knew that Glidden’s ideas were superior to his. So the two teamed up. Also working on his own versions of barbed wire was Mr. Jacob Haisch, a lumber dealer from that part of Illinois. Haisch and Glidden butted heads when Haisch accused Glidden of interfering with his “S-Barb” design. The conflict ended up delaying the patent of Glidden’s wire version affectionately called “The Winner.” The Winner’s patent finally came through in late November of 1874, and with the success of the new style of wire, Glidden and Ellwood formed the Barb Fence Company there in DeKalb. It wasn’t long before larger manufacturers got wind of the new invention and bought Glidden out.
Of course, barbed wire became a point of contention in the Old West. Some put it up to keep their livestock in and protected. Others cut it down in order to keep the natural migration patterns of the animals available. Men were shot for putting it up, and men died in the attempt to tear it down. No matter “which side of the fence” you were on, that invention was one that changed the west for sure. And to think…it got its start in my hometown.
It’s Your Turn: What is your hometown famous for? Is there a logo, symbol, or picture that has a similar effect on you to what the DeKalb Flying Corn logo has on me? What memories or feelings does it evoke and why?
Jennifer Uhlarikdiscovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list numerous times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.
The Mail-Order Brides Collection
The Mail-Order Brides Collection
What kind of woman would answer an advertisement and marry a stranger?
Escape into the history of the American West along with nine couples whose relationships begin with advertisements for mail-order brides. Placing their dreams for new beginnings in the hands of a stranger, will each bride be disappointed, or will some find true love?