Skip to main content

Newlin, Jay J.

Published onOct 11, 2021
Newlin, Jay J.

(April 20, 1886 - April 30, 1971)

Quick Facts

Jay. J. Newlin was a teacher, newspaper reporter, cattle buyer, advertising salesman, entrepreneur, author and farmer.

Jay Newlin was born in Earlham, IA. He received a BA from William Penn College in 1913 and a BS in agriculture from Iowa State College (now University) in 1917.

Jay Newlin was a founder and original stockholder of Hi-Bred Corn Company, later to become Pioneer Hi-Bred International. He served as the first vice president when it was organized in 1926. Newlin had a varied background as a teacher, newspaper reporter and advertising salesman with the Wallace’s Farmer magazine when Henry A. Wallace asked him to assist him with his duties as a hybrid corn consultant. Wallace, as editor of the Wallace’s Farmer magazine that his family had founded, had become overwhelmed with his duties at the magazine and his efforts to establish hybrid seed corn in agriculture. Wallace invited Newlin to leave his position as advertising salesman for the magazine and manage the Johnston, IA farm that he and his wife Ilo Browne had purchased. This farm was where Wallace would experiment with his corn hybrids, which become the future home of the Hi-Bred Corn company and later Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

Jay Newlin was responsible for seed corn production and was general manager for the newly formed hybrid seed corn company. Newlin is credited with bringing quality standards to the emerging hybrid seed production industry. Seed quality efforts started with hand shelling each ear of corn through a one ear corn sheller and inspecting the seed prior to putting it into a bag. When volume for the company became too great for individual ear inspection, Newlin established quality standards that would end up being used by the entire industry. After a wet spring and early frost in 1935, Newlin embarked on quality testing standards that measured not only kernel size but moisture and germination. Newlin worked with experts, many of them at Iowa State College, to establish both warm and cold germination protocols and standards for seed corn to ensure that customers would receive the highest performing seed possible. These tests were then applied to each step of the seed conditioning process to make sure that germination was not damaged. These became commercial standards for the entire seed industry at the time and are still fundamentals of the seed quality protocols used by the industry today.

As a leader in seed production, Newlin pioneered the first commercial drying of corn. The standard was to let nature and genetics naturally dry the seed – either in the field or in a crib. In 1935, when there was an early frost, the seed crop was frozen in the field and unable to dry down naturally. Newlin worked with a local electrical and drying company to install ear corn drying equipment at their three plants in Durant, Reinbeck and Johnston, Iowa. He calculated drying times, heat levels, air movement, and hybrid differences to ensure the seed dried down slowly without damaging germination and overall seed quality. This became a standard of operation for the seed industry. While more sophisticated equipment is used in the seed conditioning process today, the foundations of drying seed corn that Jay Newlin developed are still used.

In the early years of the Hi-Bred Corn Company, Jay Newlin was responsible for sales and promotion. This included organizing and executing field days. These field days were held at test plots and local farmers were invited in to view the different varieties and hybrids. Jay Newlin would lead the discussions and share product and performance information on each variety and hybrid. The practice of hosting product demonstration field days is still used in agriculture around the world today.

Jay Newlin’s attention to detail and precision allowed the seed company to produce and distribute high quality seed that the customer could trust. This precision carried over to every aspect of his farm management duties including his care for the horses used on the farm. Every horse in the team had to be curried every morning before being taken to the field to ensure good health and performance. Jay used horses on the Johnston farm long after the introduction of the tractor. His love of horses continued throughout his life.

Community Service was important to Jay Newlin. He served 15 years as a 4-H Club leader, served on the Polk County 4-H Committee, served as Director of the Polk County Farm Bureau, was a member of the Des Moines Rotary Club and served numerous other ways in his community and church. In recognition of this service, he received a citation of service from the Polk County Farm Bureau, the Des Moines Rotary Club and the Polk County 4-H. In addition, Newlin co-authored the book Corn and Corn Growing.

The Jay J. Newlin Endowed Scholarship at Iowa State University was established by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. to honor one of Jay Newlin for his contributions to agriculture. This scholarship is awarded to a junior or senior majoring in agronomy, with preference given to students who are concentrating in the study of crop science and who are U.S. citizens. This award is intended to cover most of the expenses for one academic year, including in-state tuition and on-campus room and board. Academic excellence, professional potential, and financial need are the selection criteria.

Little did Jay Newlin know that when Henry A. Wallace invited him to move to the Wallace farm in Johnston to be a tenant farmer that they would together create the largest seed company in the world. Jay Newlin’s legacy to Pioneer and the seed industry is that of maintaining excellence in the quality of the production of seeds. Newlin managed the production farm his whole life, until retiring in 1968. Jay Newlin’s single focus for the seed company he founded was “Rely on science to produce high yields.”

Jay’s son, Owen, joined the company in 1955 as a 27-year-old research assistant and retired in 1986 as senior vice president. He graduated from Iowa State (and earned a Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics at the University of Minnesota) and remained intensely loyal to ISU — and a major contributor to the university — throughout his life. He served on the Board of Regents for 12 years and was president for eight, eight years in which he found ways to make sure Iowa State got pretty much whatever it wanted from the state and, often, from his own pocket. Immensely wealthy, he was a modest man who lived modestly, as befit his Quaker background. Owen was 92 when he died on July 12, 2020.

Selected Sources

Numerous articles and documents from the Pioneer DuPont archives.

Secondary sources include Don Muhm and Virginia Wadsley, Iowans Who Made A Difference, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, 1996, pg. 185-87.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?