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Shearer, Phineas Stevens

Published onJul 30, 2021
Shearer, Phineas Stevens

(May 24, 1889 - October 20, 1978)

Quick Facts

Iowa State College student, assistant professor, associate professor, professor of Animal Husbandry and head of the Department of Animal Husbandry at Iowa State. 

Portrait of Phineas S. Shearer, B.S. 1912; M.S. 1928; joined faculty in 1913; head, Department of Animal Husbandry, 1935-1954, 1954 by Oskar Gross. Oil on canvas. Commissioned by the Department of Animal Science. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2000.101

Phineas Stevens Shearer was born on May 24, 1889 east of Melbourne, Marshall County, Iowa, a son of William Robert Shearer and Laura Edith Andrews Shearer.  He was named for Phineas Stevens, another Marshall County farmer, and he was known in the community as “Phin.”  He grew up on the family farm near Melbourne until age 15 and attended Logan No. 2 School which was known then as Shearer School.  In 1904, his father sold the farm and the family moved to Marshalltown, Iowa.  The following year, his father bought an 80 acre farm just south of Marshalltown, and Phin graduated from Marshalltown High School a few years later. 

Shearer came to Iowa State College (now University) in the fall of 1908 and graduated with a BS degree in Animal Husbandry in 1912.  While a student at Iowa State, Shearer was involved in a number of campus activities.  He had  an early interest in livestock judging and and participated on judging teams.  He was a member of the judging team that placed first at the American Royal in 1910.  He served on the the Literary and Humorous Committee of the 1912 Bomb Board, as assistant editor of the Iowa State College Student, and as 1910-1911 class president.  He was a member of the Philomathian Society, the International and Royal Stock Judging Team, the Colonials Club (later a chapter of Theta Delta Chi),  and Alpha Zeta (Agriculture Fraternity.)  In addition, he performed drill on campus as a freshman. 

Upon graduation, Shearer took a position as assistant professor of animal husbandry at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.  A year later he returned to Iowa State and was appointed assistant professor animal husbandry.  In 1915 he was promoted to associate professor of animal husbandry, and in 1919 he was promoted to professor of animal husbandry.  He completed an MS in animal husbandry in 1928.  While working on his graduate degree, with C.N. Arnett, instructor in livestock management, he developed the idea of making campus livestock classes competitive.  They formed the first stock show known as the “Little International” on the Iowa State campus.

When department head H.H. Kildee was named Dean of Agriculture in 1933, Shearer took over most of the administrative work of the department, and in 1935, he was named Head of the Department of Animal Husbandry (now Animal Science.)   As department head, he supervised the teaching of animal, dairy, and poultry husbandry, and headed the research work of the animal husbandry section of the Agricultural Experiment Station.

Shearer's professional interests in animal husbandry were in animal production and genetic improvement of livestock.  He was very involved in livestock judging activities.  He was livestock judging coach from 1919 to 1934 during which the team won both the American Royal and International Contests in 1931.  Among those he coached was James H. Hilton, future president of Iowa State University. 

He was a member of the American Society of Animal Production and served as its president in 1950.  He served as adviser to many industry groups, such as the American Feed Manufacturers Association, as official judge at numerous major livestock shows, and he was recognized as one of the outstanding beef cattle judges in the country.  He also worked with Future Farmers of America and 4-H Clubs, officiated at many of their competitions, and helped plan their livestock programs.  In addition, he judged livestock at both the Iowa State Fair and the Nebraska State Fair.  Shearer was also a member of the Executive Committee of the Iowa Beef Producers Association, the Iowa Draft Horse and Mule Breeders Association, and the Iowa Farm Bureau. 

Shearer produced a number of bulletins and articles on livestock production, including “Iowans Feed Beef Cattle for Market,” in A Century of Farming in Iowa, 1846-1946 (Ames, Iowa. Iowa State University Press), 1946.  He authored or co-authored numerous leaflets from the Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station, such as “Crossbreds Versus Purebreeds in Producing Market Hogs,” Leaflet No. 20, November, 1926, and “Care, Feeding, and Management of Sheep” Extension Circular 244, December, 1937.  After his retirement, he wrote History of the Animal Science Department.

Shearer retired as Head of the Department of Animal Husbandry in 1954.  His work was recognized by presentation of several awards over the years.  In 1953, the American Society of Animal Production presented a formal portrait of him to the Saddle and Sirloin Club of Chicago, in which he was the honored guest at the ceremony on November 29, 1953.  Only two other Iowa Staters, Charles F. Curtiss and H.H. Kildee had won the award previously.  A duplicate portrait was also hung in Kildee Hall on the Iowa State campus.  In 1960, he was awarded the title of Fellow of the American Society of Animal Production, “In recognition of Distinguished Service over a period of 25 years or more...”.  He was inducted into the Block and Bridle Hall of Fame in 1974.  He was also a member of a number of honorary societies, including Alpha Zeta and Theta Delta Chi (both from his undergraduate years) and also in Phi Kappa Phi (all academic disciplines) and Gamma Sigma Delta (agriculture.)  Shearer was also a member of the Ames Rotary Club and the Ames Golf and Country Club. 

Shearer married Mary C. Kelly (Class of 1915) on  December 21, 1918.  They had three children; Robert William Shearer, Patricia Anne Shearer Jenkins, and Mary Jeanne Shearer Staley.

Phineas Stevens Shearer died at Mary Greeley Hospital in Ames on October 20, 1978.  He is interred in Iowa State University Cemetery. 

Selected Sources

A main source of information is found in the P.S. Shearer Papers RS 9/11/15, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University.  It includes biographical information  and manuscripts of some of Shearer's publications.  The biographical information includes a memorial resolution, personnel records, newspaper articles, Iowa State Information Service releases, an article on Shearer in The Agriculturist, December, 1946, copies of several of his publications, and numerous photos of a young Phineas Shearer and his club memberships in the 1912 Bomb.

Other sources include Richard L. Willham, A Heritage of Leadership: Iowa State University Department of Animal Science, A Story of the First 100 Years. Department of Animal Science, 1996, pp. 10-19, 40, 52, 107; and “Honor Guest,” The Alumnus of Iowa State College, Volume 49, Number 2, September, 1953, p. 9. 

Family background information on the Shearer family in Marshall County, Iowa can be found in Melbourne, Iowa, Centennial History Record: 1882-1982. Melbourne, IA. The Centennial Book Committee, 1982, pp. 138-139.  

Obituaries can be found in the Ames Daily Tribune, October 20, 1978, p. 10 and the Iowa State Daily, October 24, 1978, p. 9. 

Sources conflict on whether Shearer was born in Melbourne or Marshalltown.  There is no birth certificate, but the 1900 U. S. Census shows him living in Logan Township where Melbourne is located.  See  

Interment information can be found at

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