It may have been the Christmas season, but it was corn that was on everyone’s mind in Lincoln in December of 1905.
It may have been the Christmas season, but it was corn that was on everyone’s mind in Lincoln in December of 1905. That year over 500 Nebraska boys and girls descended on the Capital City for the first State Corn Contest. Sponsored by the Department of Public Instruction, the “well-arranged program” enabled contestants from around the state “to enter their exhibits, and visit the state farm, university and manual training and domestic science departments.” The Twentieth Biennial Report of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (1907-8), located in the History Nebraska Archives/Library, tells the story of the contest.
The exhibits were a big hit with the public.
The corn was of splendid quality and of a remarkably uniform size. Several large tables were completely covered with yellow ears. All of the grain was grown from seed sent out by the state superintendent.
The surprisingly large number of ways in which the grain had been treated by the young women attracted much attention. Fully a score of dainty pastry dishes, cakes, and breads were displayed on the tables, and several of the displays were so tempting that large holes had been picked in them. One cake, which was as white as though made from the finest wheat flour, suffered especially, and the other exhibits were made the victims of frequent levies either from the young people themselves or their envious and skeptical parents.
District No. 20 of Pawnee County had a log cabin made of corn on exhibition which attracted considerable attention. The boys of Whittier School of Lincoln had a map of Nebraska made of kernels of corn, with different colored kernels to represent the hills, valleys, rivers and other topographic features.
Speakers at the two-day event included University professors, USDA representatives, and even Governor John H. Mickey. “Instructive lectures” on “The Improvement of the Corn Crop,” “The Effect of Environment on Domestic Animals,” “General Principles of Cooking,” and “What Girls Can Make From Corn” were found “intensely interesting.”
The boys and girls in attendance also sang the “Nebraska Corn Song,” the full text of which is included in the Biennial Report. Written especially for the two new youth associations by E. C. Bishop of the Department of Public Instruction, it praised corn as “the King in Nebraska” while sung to the tune of “Marching Through Georgia.”
“Entertaining features such as will please and amuse,” like an exhibit fire run by the Lincoln Fire Department, were also on the agenda. The evening program started with Nebraska scenes on canvas, and a reading of the fable “How Corn became King and Miss Alfalfa became Queen in Nebraska.” Introduction of King Corn and Queen Alfalfa, and the christening of their heir to the agricultural throne, Baby Sugar Beet, capped the festivities. At the close of the program, Professor G. E. Condra reminded the assembly, “Our boys and our girls are the real Kings and Queens of Nebraska. They stand at a premium wherever they go, fed on these other products for which our state is famed.”
Enthusiasm for the contest was so great that both a “Nebraska boys’ agricultural association” and a “Nebraska girls’ domestic science association” were organized. These groups were among the forerunners of today’s Future Farmers and Future Homemakers organizations. The culmination of the two-day event was the Corn Banquet. No less than 700 diners supped on a menu of corn soup, corn pone, corn dodgers, hominy grits, Johnny cake, corn pudding, corn sauce, corn cake, corn-fed beef, corn coffee, and finally, corn ice cream. Numerous speakers followed, and then the “most remarkable” convention was adjourned.