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Bressman, Earl N.

Published onJul 30, 2021
Bressman, Earl N.

(Aug. 27, 1894 - Jan. 3, 1985)

Quick Facts

Bressman, through his association with Henry A. Wallace, became well known in agricultural circles as the author of the “Corn Bible” and worked for the federal government, most notably in Latin America.

Earl Norman Bressman wore a number of hats during his lifetime: teacher, administrator, author, farmer, and banker. Bressman was a star student and was all but certain to be successful in any career he chose, but a chance encounter during his college years set him on a course that would take him far from his family farm in southeast Iowa. By the time he retired back to his farm in Iowa, Bressman had become one of the most respected agriculturalists in the Western Hemisphere.

Bressman was born in 1894 in Cliffton Hill, Nebraska, the youngest of 11 children. He enrolled at Iowa State College in the fall of 1916. His studies were interrupted when he was called into service during World War I. After serving 14 months and earning the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Corps he returned to Iowa State to finish his education. He received his BS (1920) in agronomy and was honored by being named the top student in what was then called the Division of Agriculture.

In 1919, while studying at Iowa State, Bressman had the good fortune to meet Henry A. Wallace. By that time, the Wallace name was well known in agricultural circles—Wallace’s grandfather and father were both publishers of an agricultural journal called Wallaces’ Farmer. Bressman and Wallace both shared an interest in corn production and breeding and the two determined to write a book on the subject. The book, Corn and Corn Growing, was published in 1923 and was among the first and most significant publications devoted to the topic of corn production. Referred to by some as the “Corn Bible,” the book and its later editions, of which the fifth and final was published in 1949, became a standard text in agricultural schools and was a valuable reference to farmers around the world.

During the 1920s, Bressman also became an educator in the field of agronomy. After earning his undergraduate degree, Bressman was immediately hired by Iowa State to serve as an instructor (1920-1922) in the Department of Agronomy. He then moved on to serve as Head (1922-1923) of the Agronomy and Farm Management Department at New Mexico State College. From there he took a position as Assistant Professor (1923-1924) of agronomy at Montana State College and then was named Associate Agronomist and Professor (1924-1933) at Oregon State College. Throughout all of these appointments and moves he managed to earn his MS (1927) degree from Iowa State and his PhD (1930) degree from the University of Nebraska. He also published a number of research papers on farm crops such as wheat, rye, corn, and hops.

Bressman's long association with Henry A. Wallace, who was serving as the United States Secretary of Agriculture, brought him to work for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a Scientific Adviser to the Secretary in 1933. In this capacity, Bressman was in charge of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Beltsville, Maryland, as well as twenty other departmental bureaus. In 1940, he was hired as the Assistant Director in the Office of Foreign Agricultural Relations and was responsible for all USDA participation in international agricultural programs in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1941, Nelson A. Rockefeller, Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, appointed Bressman to be Director (1941-1942) of the newly formed Agricultural Division in the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. The primary goal of this job was to establish the Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences (now the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture or IICA) that was to be headquartered in Turrialba, Costa Rica. Bressman served as its first Director (1942-1946).

During his time in Latin America, Bressman was tasked with a number of important missions from Washington. In 1938, he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Paraguay and successfully negotiated the cessation of hostilities between that country and neighboring Bolivia. During the war years he was assigned to locate sources of natural rubber in Latin America, a resource that was essential to the war effort—at least until the production of synthetic rubber became viable and reduced the need for imported rubber. He travelled to all of the countries in Latin America, but was most active in Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Haiti, Chile, and Ecuador. The country of Ecuador awarded him its Medal of Honor.

After many years of national and international service, Bressman returned to his farm in Iowa and joined his father-in-law in the banking business. Upon his father-in-law's death in 1956, Bressman became president of the Moorhead State Bank, a position he held for the rest of his life.

He married Leone Anita Moorhead on September 1, 1921, and together they had two children: Donna Ann and Charles Moorhead. Bressman died on January 3, 1985.

Selected Sources

Earl N. Bressman Papers, RS 9/9/53, University Archives, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

Plambeck, Herb. “Iowa Corn Authority Became a Diplomat.” Wallace’s Farmer, September 25, 1982.

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