History


In the first quarter of the century Jackson County farmers relied on tried and true open pollinated corn varieties such as Reids Yellow Dent, Early Leaming and Golden Eagle. Next year's seed was selected on the basis of physical appearance, not genetic potential.


Charlie Cornelius began evaluating and experimenting with open pollinated seed corn in 1915. His crop improvement interests began like his neighbors. As he picked corn he threw especially good ears into a box at the back of the corn wagon. Upstairs in the attic on the home farm east of Andrew, Charlie dried the ears. When a new kitchen and bedroom were added to the back of the house, there was a seed room upstairs large enough to hold about 150 bushels of corn on wire drying racks.


Cornelius's hobby won ribbons and trophies at local and state competition and he held the distinction of producing the highest yielding acre of corn in Iowa at one point in the 1910s. But, there was a revolution coming in crop breeding based on the science of genetics and by the mid-1930s it was evident open pollinated corn varieties no longer had the yield potential required. Cornelius Seed Corn historical photo


This was the entry point for Gilbert Cornelius, Charlie's Son. In 1935, Gilbert contracted with Farmer's Hybrid Seed corn Company to produce two acres of the new hybrid corn. The contract allowed Cornelius to keep half of the foundation seed. The story goes, Gilbert asked his wife Alice what she thought about producing hybrid seed and she responded "I think we should". The next year the family grew six acres and a business took root. Alice and Gilbert were partners in life as well as business as she was an integral part of the success in the early years of the company.


Charlie's daughter, Emma, and her husband, Emil Kruger, joined the seed company partnership and soon basements and attics in three homes were bulging with drying corn.


In 1938 the partnership built a seed drying house on Charlie's farm. The same year the first Cornelius seed corn circular was printed. The logo "Blue Ribbon Hybrids" was a natural from the accumulation of ribbons and trophies Charlie's years of competition had produced.


1945 was a year of disaster for the young Cornelius Seed company. A severe hailstorm totally destroyed the seed crop, which led the partners to decide to dry seed for McNeily Seeds. While drying their seed, the seed plant caught fire and burned to the ground and it was feared that Charlie's nearby house may also catch fire, although it was spared.


Determined to rise from the ashes, the partners studied other production facilities before rebuilding one half mile south of the original location in 1946. The new facility, which is still in use as part of the present operation, was built away from other farm buildings and was constructed in two parts. The cement and steel drying and sorting building and the warehouse became separate structures. Both have been enlarged several times to handle increased production.


After World War II Charlie's Cornelius Seed Corn historical photoyoungest son Lawrence Cornelius returned from military service, moved to the home farm and joined the partnership.


In 1949, Emil Kruger returned to Wartburg seminary to become a pastor and Gilbert Cornelius purchased the seed processing facility.


In 1956 Gilbert's son, Gerald Cornelius, graduated from Iowa State University with a major in animal husbandry and a minor in agronomy. Gerald became the third generation to join the company after he purchased Charlie's shares of the company.


Wanda Cornelius, Gerald's wife, would play a large part in helping the company grow. She did bookkeeping, planning meetings and was a magician when a dealer came by around lunch time. She always had plenty of food, an extra plate and a welcoming smile for them.Cornelius Seed Corn historical photo of a warehouse


Although he was no longer a partner, Charlie's interest in corn breeding remained undiminished. He was a regular fixture in the seed house during the harvest rush, processing and spring sales. Under the display of ears of the different corn hybrids, Charlie continued his lifelong love of corn as he waited on customers through the 1966 crop season. Charlie passed away in 1970 at the age of 88. 


Paul Cornelius, Gilbert and Alice Cornelius's second son, joined the company in 1959 after completing his Master's degree in plant breeding at Iowa State. After a few years, due to health issues, Paul went back to school at the University of Illinois where he earned a doctorate in statistics and genetics. Paul became part of the faculty at the University of Kentucky but he continued his relationship with the company through 2009 by directing experimental research and test plot work.


Change came abruptly in 1973 with the death of Gilbert. Gerald became the business owner and Ronald Cornelius, who had joined the company in 1972 became increasingly active in seed production and sales as well as the firm's farming operation beyond the seed house. His farming background and mechanical interests soon made him an integral part in the operation. 


The fourth generation became involved actively in management of the company when Chuck Cornelius, the son of Gerald and Wanda Cornelius, joined the company in 1983 following his graduation from Iowa State University with a degree in agronomy. Chris Cornelius, Chuck's wife, married into the business after receiving her degree in Ag Journalism at Iowa State. She can always be found behind the scenes attending to the details and making sure things run smoothly. 


Lester and Nancy Johnson returned to Jackson County in 1986 and joined Cornelius Seed, Lester as Sales Manager and Nancy, Gerald and Wanda Cornelius's daughter, as an office assistant and accountant.


Gerald was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1994, but would tragically pass away from a battle with cancer in December of 1995. Following the passing of Gerald, his son Chuck assumed the role of president at Cornelius Seed.


1998 was another year of transitions with the death of Lawrence Cornelius. It was also the retirement of the "Blue Ribbon logo" and launch of a new logo and the "Plant it. Profit" slogan.


The first decade of the 21st century was a great one for Cornelius Seed. Sales nearly doubled as did the need for additional infrastructure. The Office was built in 2001 with an attached warehouse expansion. 2003 saw a dryer expansion. 2005 through 2007 brought the company another warehouse, loading dock and state of the art processing tower with a color sorter, which replaced the 1940s era tower.


Lester Johnson retired from the company in 2008 to pursue a full time farming operation. In 2015, Nancy Johnson chose to pursue her dream of teaching, leaving the family business to become Maquoketa High School's Family and Consumer Sciences instructor.


The following Spring the first of the fifth generation, Will Cornelius, son of Chuck and Chris Cornelius, graduated from Iowa State with a bachelor's degree in agronomy and seed technology and joined the company. Chuck and Chris's other son, James Cornelius, also came back to the business in 2011 after earning degrees in Agronomy and Ag Systems Technology from Iowa State.


Ron Cornelius, plant manager and co-owner, retired January 31, 2014 after 42 years of dedication and service to the company.


After 78 years of business, in 2013 Cornelius Seed made a historic decision to add its own soybean product line to complement its successful corn lineup.







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