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Gunderson, Harold

Published onJul 30, 2021
Gunderson, Harold

(March 22, 1913- December 15,1971)

Quick Facts

Harold “Tiny” Gunderson was an Iowa State Entomologist and one of the two creators of “The Dutch and Tiny Show”.


Harold “Tiny” Gunderson was best known for his work as an ISU Extension Entomologist, a position he held from 1939 until his death in 1971. Gunderson was regularly cited in farm periodicals, traveled widely to conduct pest control meetings and demonstrations, authored numerous extension bulletins, and carried on extensive correspondence with county extension staff, other professionals, and representatives of chemical manufacturing companies. Along with Extension Weed Specialist E.P. “Dutch” Sylwester he was the face of ISU for many farmers from across the state. The pest control presentations they made together in high school gymnasiums and community halls every winter earned the name “The Dutch and Tiny Show”.

Gunderson was born in Butte, Montana, on March 22, 1913. He majored in Entomology at Montana State College and earned his BS and MS degrees there in 1934 and 1935, respectively. Throughout his years at Montana State he worked as a laboratory assistant at the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station. He worked for the United States Department of Agriculture Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine as an Emergency Agent conducting grasshopper population surveys from April to September, 1934. He began graduate work at Iowa State in 1935 and was awarded the PhD in 1939, all the while serving as Assistant Extension Entomologist and Experiment Station Entomologist. Gunderson was appointed as Extension Entomologist in 1939 after he completed the PhD.

Gunderson was on the job during a time of rapid change in pest control techniques, most notably the development and widespread use of chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides such as DDT and organophosphate such as malathion. He provided counsel on control techniques for many pest species present on Iowa farms, homes, golf courses, and lawns. He drafted guidelines on the control of European corn borers, corn rootworms, termites, and flies for farmers, homeowners, and businesses. He authored numerous extension publications and articles in the farm press. Gunderson consistently advocated a balanced approach of cultural practices such as crop rotation, clean plowing, and farm sanitation with chemical control techniques.

Gunderson was keenly aware of the potential not only for great returns of the chemical revolution in agriculture but also its risks and challenges. While he advocated balanced pest control techniques, farmers often either ignored or failed to understand some of the emerging restrictions on some insecticides, a development that troubled Gunderson. The potential for contamination of meat and dairy products from improper chemical use of chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides were high, and the regulatory regime of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was a new challenge. Gunderson was stunned when he learned the extent to which farmers applied chemicals without understanding them and appealed to county extension staff to do a better job of warning farmers about the risks of farm chemicals. In a confidential 1960 memo to county extension staff across the state, Gunderson urged county staff members to reinforce the importance of following pesticide guidelines to avoid contamination of dairy products for their own good. Not only were there legitimate concerns about the consumption of pesticide residues, but the state did not need a scandal in which interstate shipments of Iowa milk would be restricted and the quality of Iowa dairy products impeached due to ignorance or neglect.

Gunderson served his profession and ISU in other capacities. He was president of the North Central Branch of the Entomological Society of America in 1955, a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Epsilon Sigma Phi, an honorary society for extension professionals. He was a member of the Advisory Committee on Agricultural Chemicals for the Iowa Department of Agriculture’s Chemical Technology Review Board. The Iowa Chapter of Gamma Sigma Delta posthumously awarded Gunderson the Award of Merit for Distinguished Service to Agriculture in 1972.

Gunderson was married to Carolyn L. Gunderson. Together they had two children, Carolyn Anne and David Eric Gunderson.

Harold Gunderson died of a heart attack on December 15, 1971 in Mason City, having just completed a professional presentation.

Gunderson’s reputation as an honest broker served him well, as ISU assistant director of cooperative extension Charles Donhowe noted upon Gunderson’s death: “His objectivity created trust and confidence.” The ISU Department of Entomology holds the Harold Gunderson Memorial Lecture on alternate years in memory of his many contributions to extension, the university, and the people of Iowa.

Selected Sources

Anderson, J.L., Industrializing the Corn Belt: Agriculture, Technology, and Environment, 1945-1972. DeKalb, Northern Illinois University Press, 2009.

Anderson, J.L., “The Dutch and Tiny Show,” in Tradition and Transformation: A Sesquicentennial History of Iowa State University, ed. Dorothy Schwieder and Gretchen Van Houten. Ames and London, Iowa State University and Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.

Annual Report-Cooperative Extension Service, Entomology and Wildlife, Iowa State University Archives, S544 IOR.

Harold Gunderson Papers,13/25/53, University Archives, Special Collection Iowa State University Library.

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