(February 21, 1906 - January 15, 1999)
Alumnus, corn breeder, researcher, Director of Corn Breeding and corporate vice president at Pioneer Hi-Bred Company in Johnston, Iowa.
Raymond F. Baker was born at Beaconsfield, Ringgold County, Iowa on February 21, 1906, and grew up there on the family farm. He participated in 4H and played basketball in high school and then enrolled at Iowa State College in 1924 to study agronomy. In 1926, he met Henry A. Wallace, took some of Wallace's inbred corn seeds, planted them on the family farm, developed hybrid crosses, and won the highest honors in the Southern District of Iowa Corn Yield Test the following year. Baker's interest in corn breeding became so enthusiastic that he dropped out of Iowa State in his senior year in 1928 to go to work for Wallace at what was then called the Hi-Bred Corn Company. He later returned to Iowa State and finished his bachelor's degree in agronomy in 1935.
Baker was manager of the breeding department from 1929 to 1946, became Director of Corn Breeding in 1933 when Wallace left to become U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and served on the Pioneer Board of Directors from 1935 to 1988. However, the two maintained a close relationship until Wallace's death in 1965. In developing high yield, drought resistant, and disease resistant breeds, Baker kept an extensive check list of characteristics that were tested including Moisture, Stay Green, Test Weight, Seedling Vigor, Grain Quality, Ear Height, Plant Height, Early Stand Count, Number Stalk, Dropped Ears, and Wind Resistance.
In 1932, with a budget of $2,000, Baker planted the company's first yield test plots. Sales in the 1933-34 season went so high that the budget for research was tripled. During the drought year of 1936, Baker was able to persuade farmers to buy his newly developed drought resistant corn seed. As a result, the growth of Pioneer was phenomenal. Soon a second research station was started in northern Iowa. In 1946, he started a research assistantship program at Iowa State for students studying corn breeding.
Baker retired from Pioneer in 1971 after a career of 43 years there, but he continued to consult with Pioneer for many years and maintained research plots of his own. When he retired from the board in 1988, the research budget had increased from the $2,000 budget of 1932 to $54, 484,000. The Corn Breeding Division had increased to 19 stations which employed nearly 100 geneticists and technicians. At that time it was estimated that 25% of all corn grown in the United States came from varieties developed under Baker's direction.
Baker was involved in many professional activities. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society of Agronomy. He helped establish the National Council of Commercial Plant Breeders of which he became president. He also served as president of the Iowa Experimental Association and the Iowa Crops and Soils Research Association. In addition, he was also a member of the Genetics Society of America and the American Seed Trade Association. In 1991, Iowa State University awarded Baker an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, the first honorary degree to be awarded in 26 years.
Baker was also involved in many non-professional activities as well. In regard to Iowa State, he was a member of the Iowa State University Alumni Association, the Iowa State University Foundation Board of Governors, the National Chairman of the Iowa State University Achievement Fund, and was awarded the Alumni Medal from the Iowa State University Alumni Association. He served on the Johnston School Board for 12 years, was chairman of a local Boy Scout committee, and served as president of the Johnston Lions Club.
Baker also made significant donations to Iowa State University. After one of his sons, Larry Baker, died suddenly in 1982, he established the Laurence H. Baker Center for Bioinformatics and Biological Statistics at Iowa State. The year before his death, Baker and his wife, Mary Morrison Collier Baker, anonymously donated $80 million to the Department of Agriculture at Iowa State with the agreement that their names would not be released until after their deaths.
Raymond F. Baker died on January 15, 1999 and was interred in Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines. Mary died just a few weeks later. The following year, the Department of Agronomy established the Raymond F. Baker Center For Plant Breeding to continue to promote the art and science of plant breeding.
Raymond F. Baker Papers, RS 21/7/8, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library
The archives of the Department of Agronomy, College of Agriculture, Iowa State University,
John C. Culver and John Hyde, American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace. New York. W. W. Norton & Company, 1988, pp. 90, 148-149, 312, 519;
Betty Fussell, The Story of Corn. New York. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992, p. 74.
Iowa State Daily