Claude R. Wickard

Location: Carroll White REMC, 241 N. Heartland Dr., Delphi (Carroll County, IN) 46923. [South of the Hoosier Heartland (Highway 25) about one mile in the Hoosier Heartland Industrial Park.]

Installed 2018 Indiana Historical Bureau, Carroll County Historical Society, Carroll White REMC, and Friends and Family of Claude R. Wickard.

ID#: 08.2018.1

Text

Side One
 
Claude R. Wickard
1893-1967
 
Agricultural leader Claude Wickard was born on a farm near here, which he maintained throughout his career. He graduated from Purdue University, became a local Farm Bureau leader, and in 1932 was elected to the Indiana Senate. During the 1930s, Wickard advanced through the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, a New Deal agency aimed at creating parity for farmers.
 
Side Two
 
By 1937, Wickard became a leader within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him Secretary of Agriculture in 1940, Wickard ensured the agricultural production necessary for Allied victory in WWII. In 1945, he became chief of the Rural Electrification Administration, which increased farmers’ production and standard of living.
 

Annotated Text

Side One

Claude R. Wickard 1893-1967[1]

Agricultural leader[2] Claude Wickard was born on a farm near here,[3] which he maintained throughout his career.[4] He graduated from Purdue University,[5] became a local Farm Bureau leader,[6] and in 1932 was elected to the Indiana Senate.[7] During the 1930s, Wickard advanced through the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, a New Deal agency aimed at creating parity for farmers.[8]

Side Two

By 1937, Wickard became a leader within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[9] After President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him Secretary of Agriculture in 1940,[10] Wickard ensured the agricultural production necessary for Allied victory in WWII.[11] In 1945, he became chief of the Rural Electrification Administration, which increased farmers’ production and standard of living.[12]

 


Note on sources: The Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President and the Papers of Claude R. Wickard were accessed through the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York. Excerpts from Claude Wickard’s diary and the 1948 interview with Wickard recorded for the Oral History Project of Columbia University were accessed through Dean Albertson’s extensive biography Roosevelt’s Farmer: Claude R. Wickard in the New Deal (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1961).

[1] 1900 United States Census (Schedule 1), Enumeration District 27, Carrollton Township, Carroll County, Indiana, FHL microfilm 1240361, page 5, Line 74, June 8-9, 1900, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Claude Wickard Killed in Crash,” New York Times, April 30, 1967, 87, timesmachine.nytimes.com; “Claude Wickard Dies in State Crash,” Indianapolis Star, April 30, 1967, 1, Newspaper.com; “Crash Kills Claude Wickard, FDR’s Farm Chief,” (Louisville) Courier-Journal, April 30, 1967, 26, Newspapers.com; “Claude Raymond Wickard,” Photograph of Grave, Find A Grave Memorial 10583574, FindAGrave.com; Albertson, 6-8.

Claude Raymond Wickard was born on February 28, 1893 to Andrew Jackson “Jack” and Iva Leonora “Nora” Wickard in Carrollton Township, Carroll County, Indiana. He died in a car crash on April 29, 1967 just three miles south of Delphi, Carroll County, Indiana, near the marker location.

[2] Claude R. Wickard’s Diary in Dean Albertson, Roosevelt’s Farmer: Claude R. Wickard in the New Deal (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1961), 1-3.

Claude Wickard’s rise to the position of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was due both to his origins as a farmer and his lifelong allegiance to the Democratic Party (footnote 7). Wickard was born into a farming family (see footnote 3), grew up helping his father maintain the farm, and made major improvements to it after he graduated from Purdue University (footnote 5). Even when his career took him to Washington, he continued to manage the farm (his acres and those adjacent, which were owned by his father) through correspondence and always considered himself a “dirt farmer.” He wrote in his diary January 1, 1940:

I have a farm of 100 acres in Carroll County Indiana which is paid for and in good state of fertility and repair. My father’s farm of 280 acres which I have farmed since I graduated from Purdue in 1915 is in good state of fertility and repair also.

After Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace offered him the position of Undersecretary, Wickard wrote in his diary January 30:

One thing seems to be clear, that my being a farmer was an aid [to the decision to offer Wickard the office.] Another thing in my favor was of course that I am a born democrat. I suspect that I will be taking quite an active part in the years [sic] political campaign. . . What does 1940 hold for me, a dirt farmer.

For more on Wickard’s farm see footnotes 3, 4, and 5. For his role as an agricultural leader see footnotes 5, 8-12. See footnote 10 for more on the importance of his identity as a “dirt farmer” to other farmers looking to him for leadership.

[3] 1900 United States Census (Schedule 1), Enumeration District 27, Carrollton Township, Carroll County, Indiana, FHL microfilm 1240361, page 5, Line 74, June 8-9, 1900, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Last Will and Testament of Andrew J. Wickard, July 1903, Carroll County Circuit Court, Carroll County, Indiana, Will Records, Vol 7-9, pages 255-261, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999, AncestryLibrary.com; “From Hog Farm to Cabinet,” Time Magazine reprinted in the Des Moines Register, July 20, 1941, 20, Newspapers.com; Albertson, 6-8. Maps of the family farm from 1863, 1874, 1882, and 1939 are available in the IHB marker file.

Note on marker location: The marker is located in Delphi, Carroll County, Indiana, near the Carroll County REMC building. This location is significant in that the REMC was an important initiative to Wickard (footnote 12) and near the site of his death (footnote 1). The Wickard farm was approximately eight miles east of this location near Camden, Carroll County, Indiana.

Claude’s grandfather Andrew Wickard purchased 720 acres, 360 cleared for farming in Carrollton Township, Carroll County, shortly after the Civil War. He passed 100 acres to his son, Andrew Jackson “Jack” Wickard in 1892. Jack added 180 acres to the farm. Claude Wickard would gradually take over operations of the farm from Jack and add even more acreage. Wickard named his property “Fairacre Farms.” (See footnotes 2 and 4 for more descriptions of the farm.) Additionally, many newspapers described the farm in the biographical features they ran after he became Secretary of Agriculture. For example, the Indianapolis Star reported on his improvements to the farm upon his return after college:

Wickard became a good farmer, won 10 gold medals from the farm bureau for coaxing a yield of 100 bushels to the acre from his cornfields. He went in heavily for hogs, got into the ton-litter competition, won another half-dozen medals. In five years he had bought another 100 acres abutting his ancestral 280 and had paid off a $5,000 mortgage.

The IHB marker file contains many more examples of such articles.

[4] “Roosevelt Names Claude R. Wickard Farm Secretary,” Indianapolis Star, August 20, 1940, 1, Newspapers.com; “From Hog Farm to the Cabinet,” Time Magazine reprinted in the Des Moines Register, July 20, 1941, 20, Newspapers.com; Itinerary for Secretary and Mrs. Wickard, July 1942, Folder: Second Inter-American Conference on Agriculture, Mexico, July 1942, Department of Agriculture Files, R-S, 1933-1945, Container 16, Papers of Claude Wickard; “Wickard Resigns as REA Head; To Return to Farm in Indiana,” (Richmond) Palladium-Item, March 17, 1953, 1, Newspapers.com; Albertson, 125.

Albertson stated that Wickard “had made it a practice to visit the farm at least once a month” after his career took him to Washington. For example, in 1940, the Indianapolis Star reported, “During all the time he has been in Washington, Wickard has supervised the operations on his own farm of 380 acres, where several hundred heads of hogs are grown and fattened every year, and while on speaking dates over the Middle West he finds time to spend a few hours at the farm or on the campus of Purdue.” In a 1941 profile of the Secretary, Time Magazine noted that despite the “international emergency,” Wickard rushed back to his farm when his hogs got sick. While the visits may have been less frequent during WWII, he always maintained his Carroll County farm and considered it home. The IHB marker file contains dozens of newspaper articles mentioning his visits to his Carroll County farm between official obligations. For example, in the summer of 1942, he travelled from Washington, D.C., to his farm in Indiana and then on to Mexico City for the Inter-American Conference on Agriculture. The Papers of Claude Wickard contain some correspondence with workers on his farm. After he retired from the REA in 1953, he returned to live at Fairacre Farms.

[5] “Local and Personal,” (Delphi) Carroll County Citizen Times, June 12, 1915, 5, NewspaperArchive.com; “Locals and Personals,” Delphi Journal, June 17, 1915, 8, NewspaperArchive.com; “Register of Officers (1865-1915) and Alumni (1975-1915),” Bulletin of Purdue University 16:5 (January 1916), 108, U. S. School Catalogs, 1754-1886, Ancestry.com; “Varsouvienne Club,” Purdue Debris 1915, 315, U. S. School Yearbooks, 1880-2012, Ancestry.com;  “Seed Wheat,” Delphi Journal, September 20, 1917, 2, NewspaperArchive.com; “Miss Louise Eckert and Claude Wickard Are Married,” (Flora) Hoosier Democrat, April 20, 1918, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Farmers Institute Programs,” (Delphi) Journal, January 20, 1921, 7, NewspaperArchive.com; Wickard’s Diary in Albertson 16-17; Albertson, 17-20.

Wickard improved and modernized the family farm after studying scientific farming methods at Purdue University. Local farmers took notice and he began to take a leadership role within the farming community.

While his father distrusted academic learning and discouraged Wickard from attending any college, Wickard enrolled in Purdue University in September 1910. His father’s illness required that he return to the farm only nine months later. He successfully ran the operation, harvested the corn, and returned to Purdue. Over the next few years, he took part in experiments in combating diseases in hogs and became passionate about the advances made by scientific farming methods. After graduating from Purdue in 1915, he returned to Carroll County eager to share his knowledge and lead by example on his own farm. According to Albertson, even at this early point in his career, “Wickard had a vision of future farmers being the economic, social, and intellectual equals of the city folks whom they fed.” This vision would align with the politics of the Democratic Party and the New Deal.

Wickard added acreage to Fairacre Farms and modernized it, adding indoor plumbing and electric lights. He also added oats and wheat to the corn crop and began raising pigs. This diversification helped the Wickards survive lean years. In 1918, the (Flora) Hoosier Democrat referred to him as “one of the progressive young farmers of Carroll County and local newspapers covered his experiments in raising crops and animals.” The neighbors noticed the improvements and in December 1918, they asked Wickard to manage a Farmer’s Institute (sponsored by Purdue University Extension Department) for Carrollton Township, Carroll County. He spoke on “the social and economic needs of the farming community” and its role in democracy, according to Albertson. From this point on, local farmers began looking to Wickard for expertise and leadership.

[6] “Takes New Name and Admits Women as Members,” Carroll County Citizen Times, December 11, 1920, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Campaign A Success,” Brook Reporter, December 24, 1920, 5, NewspaperArchive.com; “Business Men and Farmers Enjoy Banquet,” Carroll County Citizen-Times, January 22, 1921, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Indianapolis Man Speaks at March Banquet Community Club This City,” (Flora) Hoosier Democrat, March 5, 1921. 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Directors of Farm Bureau 1920,” Carroll County Citizen Times, March 12, 1921, 4, NewspaperArchive.com; James Madison, Indiana through Tradition and Change: A History of the Hoosier State and Its People, 1920-1945 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1982), 181; Albertson, 24-33.

Starting in 1919, Wickard became involved at the local level with the Farm Bureau, a powerful cooperative that would kick start his political career. That year, he helped form a Carrollton Township unit of the American Farm Bureau and was elected chairman. Also in 1919, he was elected vice-president of the Carroll County Farm Bureau. The American Farm Bureau organization was made up of farmers, county commissioners, businessmen, and agricultural experts who promoted farm improvements and advocated for the interests of farmers. According to Indiana historian James Madison, Wickard realized that, while his Purdue education in scientific farming was valuable, farmers faced problems that required community and even political involvement. Madison wrote:

Wickard soon realized that his successful efforts at “book” farming could not alone solve the farm problem of the 1920s, and he increasingly moved to organized economic efforts – directing the Carroll County Farm Bureau Cooperative – and to political efforts – accompanying Indiana Farm Bureau President Settle to the Democratic National Convention in 1928.

In short, “the farm problem” was the disparity between the income and purchasing power for the farmer compared to the average city worker. In the 1920s, the average farmer made roughly two-thirds the salary of the urban worker. This would worsen during the Great Depression. Addressing this disparity would be the focus of Wickard’s career. See footnotes 8 and 9 for more information.

[7] All newspapers in this note accessed NewspaperArchive.com. “Claude Wickard to be Candidate as State Senator,” (Flora) Hoosier Democrat, February 20, 1932, 1; “For Joint Senator,” (Flora) Hoosier Democrat, April 16, 1932, 7; “Candidate for Joint Senator,” Delphi Citizen, September 29, 1932, 1; “Democrats Win Election: Landslide for Roosevelt Includes Congress, State and All Carroll County,” Delphi Citizen, November 10, 1932, 1; “Wickard Co-Author Bill on Behalf of Veterinarians,” (Flora) Hoosier Democrat, January 28, 1933, 4; “Wickard Bill Draws Fire,” Delphi Citizen, February 23, 1933, 8; “Claude Wickard is Appointed Farm Board,” Delphi Citizen, May 4, 1933, 1; “Claude Wickard Carroll Farmer on Works Body,” Delphi Citizen, August 3, 1933, 1.

Wickard announced his candidacy for Indiana Senate in February 1932. His position as “an ardent Farm Bureau supporter and a graduate of Purdue University” qualified him for the office, according to the Hoosier Democrat. The paper described Wickard as “a well-known farmer . . . successful in his profession” and as “one of the county’s well known Democrats.” These two characteristics would define and drive Wickard’s career. The Delphi Citizen reported: “As a candidate for the Legislature he is especially interested in the problems and welfare of the people who live on the farms . . .” This would remain the focus of his career with the Department of Agriculture as well. On November 10, 1932, Indiana newspapers announced the national and state sweep of the elections by the Democratic Party. Wickard was elected joint Indiana senator from Clinton, White, and Carroll counties. During his short time in the Indiana Senate, Wickard introduced a bill to limit large trucks on the roads, a bill to protect the professionalism of veterinarians, and served on the governor-appointed state Farm Board. The board was tasked with enacting the new Agricultural Adjustment Act which created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). Wickard accepted a position within the AAA in August 1933, vacating his Senate seat. See footnote 8 for more on the AAA position.

[8] Organization Authority Record, Agricultural Adjustment Administration, 1933 – February 23, 1942, Department of Agriculture, National Archive Catalog, National Archives and Records Administration, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/10516302; S. J. McDonough, “Black and Two Aides Speakers at Des Moines,” (Mason City, Iowa) Globe-Gazette, July 18, 1933, 1, Newspapers.com; “300 Meet at Des Moines to Frame Government Aid Plan for Corn-Hog Raisers,” (Davenport, Iowa) Quad-City Times, July 18, 1933, 2, Newspapers.com; “Claude Wickard Carroll Farmer on Works Body,” Delphi Citizen, August 3, 1933, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Indiana Men Called to Washington to Aid Farm Relief,” (Flora) Hoosier Democrat, October 28, 1933, 6, NewspaperArchive.com; “Corn-Hog Aid Drive Opens,” Des Moines (Iowa) Tribune, November 1, 1933, 1, Newspapers.com; “Consider Hog-Corn Program,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, November 2, 1933, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Corn-Hog Control Work Outlined,” Muncie Evening Press, November 2, 1933, 1, Newspapers.com; “Claude Wickard to Assist on Farm Meetings,” Delphi Journal, November 2, 1933, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; Alfred Hall, “Farm and Rural Interests: The Item’s Agricultural Department, Corn-Hog Program to be Discussed,” Richmond Item, December 27, 1933, 9, Newspapers.com; “Two ‘New Deal’ Projects for Farmers Considered,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, January 10, 1934, 1, Newspapers.com; “Are Planning for the Meeting,” Daily Reporter, January 15, 1934, 1, Newspapers.com; “Corn-Hog Quotas Now Equitable,” (Greencastle) Times-News, May 24, 1934, 4, NewspaperArchive.com; “Urges Immediate Crop Steps,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 28, 1936, 1, Newspapers.com; “Modified U.S. Soil Program Is Announced: Assistance to Corn Belt and in Northwest,” Fairfield (Iowa) Daily Ledger, July 10, 1936, 2, NewspaperArchive.com; “Scope and Content Note,” Subseries I.1 (1914-1939), Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, United States Department of Agriculture, https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/speccoll/exhibits/show/usda-history-collection/finding-aid/usda-series-i/subseries-i-1; “Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933, Reauthorized 1938),” The Living New Deal, University of California, Berkeley, https://livingnewdeal.org/glossary/agricultural-adjustment-act-1933-re-authorized-1938-2/; Albertson, 60-64, 102-103, 113.

At a June 1933 meeting in Indianapolis, organized to develop an Indiana organization under the Agricultural Adjustment Administration to control corn and hog production for the purpose of achieving parity, a group of farmers nominated Wickard as chairman of the Indiana group. Parity for farmers meant wages, standard of living, and buying power comparable to the urban workers they fed. This Indiana group became the National Corn-Hog Committee of Twenty-Five which spoke for Indiana farmers at meetings of the Corn-Hog section of the AAA. At the July 1933 meeting, Dr. A. G. Black, a former professor of agricultural economics and the chief of the Corn-Hog Section, asked Wickard to come to Washington as his assistant. In August 1933, Wickard accepted the position of assistant chief of the Corn-Hog Section of the AAA, the start of his career in the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Corn-Hog Section mainly worked to control production of corn and hogs in order to drive up prices. Wickard often presided over meetings organized through state and local Farm Bureaus and farm extension programs and spoke to farmers about signing agreements with the government to limit production. In return they received parity payments from the USDA.

On January 6, 1936, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Agricultural Adjustment Act was unconstitutional. The majority opinion claimed that agriculture should be controlled at the state not federal level. In response, the USDA reorganized the departments of the AAA by region and worked to create a new farm bill that would circumvent the Supreme Court ruling. (This was first the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1936, and then the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938). Wickard’s title changed from Assistant Chief of the Corn-Hog Section, to Assistant Director of the North-Central Region, which included Midwestern states forming the corn-belt.

[9] “Aid for Iowa,” Des Moines Register, January 7, 1937, 11, Newspapers.com; “New Corn Belt States Program,” Moberly (Missouri) Monitor-Index, January 18, 1937, 4, Newspapers.com; “250 Producers Expected Here,” Indianapolis Star, January 24, 1937, 15, Newspapers.com; “Claude R. Wickard Makes Statement on Classification,” Carroll (Iowa) Daily Herald, January 27, 1937, 6, Newspapers.com; Albertson, 109.

                Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace named Wickard director of the North Central Division of the United States Department of Agriculture in January 1937, after Wickard helped the Secretary stump the Midwest for President Roosevelt’s reelection campaign. Newspaper articles show that Wickard led much of the USDA work on soil conservation at this time. Albertson summarized Wickard’s career to the point of this promotion and his standing within the Democratic Party thusly:

He had gained the respect and confidence of farmers and farm leaders throughout the corn belt. His sympathies for the less fortunate and his genuine humanitarianism, layered over as they were with the cautious conservatism of his rural background were adjudged adequate credentials for membership in the New Deal fraternity.

Albertson did note, however, that “Wickard’s economic thinking . . . admitted of some limitations.”

[10] Henry A. Wallace to Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 31, 1940, Official File 1: Agriculture Department, 1940, Department of Agriculture, Box 1, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Everett C. Watkins, “Genuine Dirt-Farmer from Indiana Chosen to be Wallace’s Assistant,” Indianapolis Star, February 2, 1940, 2, Newspapers.com; “Name Hoosier to Agriculture Post,” Richmond Palladium-Item, February 2, 1940, 3, Newspapers.com; “Claude Wickard, of Camden, Gets High U.S. Post,” (Lafayette) Journal and Courier, February 2, 1940, 17, Newspapers.com; “C. R. Wickard in Farm Post,” Des Moines (Iowa) Register, February ,1940, 7, Newspaper.com; “Wallace Staff Undergoes New Shake-Up: Wickard Takes Wilson’s Post in Agriculture,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 2, 1940, 1, Newspapers.com; “The National Whirligig: Theory and Practice,” Detroit Free Press, February 22, 1940, 6, Newspapers.com; “The National Whirligig,” Muncie Evening Press, February 22, 1940, 4, Newspapers.com; “The National Whirligig: Change,” Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune, February 22, 1940, 10, Newspapers.com; Claude R. Wickard to Stephen K. Early, April 30, 1940, Official File 1 Department of Agriculture, Box 5, Folder: Agriculture Dept., 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Henry A. Wallace to Franklin D. Roosevelt, August 15, 1940 and Franklin D. Roosevelt to Henry A. Wallace, August 17, 1940, Press Release Draft, August 18, 1940, Official File 1 Department of Agriculture, Box 5, Folder: Agriculture Dept., 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Stephen K. Early, Press Release Draft, August 19, 1940, Official File 1 Department of Agriculture, Box 5, Folder: Agriculture Dept., 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Claude R. Wickard to Franklin D. Roosevelt, August 23, 1940, Official File 1 Department of Agriculture, Box 5, Folder: Agriculture Dept., 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Secretary Claude R. Wickard to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, November 28, 1940, Departmental Correspondence, Series 4, President’s Secretary File, Box 54, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Claude R. Wickard, “The 1940 Convention,” Papers of Claude Wickard, July 28, 1940 in Albertson 137- 149; Franklin D. Roosevelt to Josephus Daniels, August 21, 1940 in Albertson, 153; “Claude Wickard, Hoosier, Named to Succeed Wallace: Secretary Will Resign Sept. 5,” Indianapolis News, August 19, 1940, 1, Newspapers.com; “Roosevelt Names Claude R. Wickard Farm Secretary,” Indianapolis Star, August 20, 1940, 1, Newspapers.com; “Claude R. Wickard Is Praised Here,” Indianapolis Star, August 20, 1940, 9, Newspapers.com; “Wickard Given a Welcome Home,” Indianapolis Star, August 31, 1940, 4, Newspapers.com; Albertson, 127, 131.

Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace recommended Claude Wickard for the position of Undersecretary of Agriculture to President Roosevelt on January 31, 1940. Wickard was sworn in February 29, 1940. A syndicated article reprinted in newspapers across the country focused on and praised his experience as a “dirt farmer.” The articles reported that after receiving his appointment as undersecretary, Wickard travelled back to his Indiana farm. While there, he oversaw the birth of some piglets. The writer, taking an amused but respectful tone noted the “change of policy . . . which has come over FDR, Henry Wallace and the Department of Agriculture” in appointing “a practical dirt farmer” to replace former undersecretary “Professor Rex Tugwell.” (Tugwell was a member of FDR’s “brain trust” and a previous undersecretary.) Farmers trusted Wickard because he too was a real farmer with experience working the land, as opposed to an intellectual versed only in theories about farming and economics. Wallace knew the department needed someone like Wickard to get farmer support for policies that required their participation. In fact, the Associated Press reported in a widely reprinted article that Wickard’s appointment was part of a move by the USDA “to win stronger producer support for administration crop programs.” Additionally, many newspaper writers, especially in the Midwest, noted that Wickard was a “genuine dirt-farmer.”

Starting in the spring of 1940, Undersecretary Wickard also worked to further the political aspirations of Secretary Wallace. Wickard attended the Democratic National Convention in July 1940 to build farmer support for a vice-presidential nomination for Wallace. Their efforts were successful. President Roosevelt chose Wallace as his running mate and accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination. In the following days, according to Albertson, “Farm Bureau people, county agents, Triple-A committeemen and influential neighbors offered their support to Claude Wickard for Secretary of Agriculture.” On July 30, 1940 Wallace asked Wickard whether he wanted the job. Wickard wrote in his diary:

After lunch the Secretary called me in to tell me that he wanted me appointed Secretary of Agriculture when he resigned to engage in political activities about the first of September. He said that Mr. M. W. Thatcher [an influential farm cooperative leader] had already discussed the matter with the President. I thanked him for his expression of confidence in me and said I did not feel equal to the task but that I would do the best I could to carry on present policies if I were chosen.

On August 19, the press reported that President Roosevelt had accepted the resignation of his running mate Wallace and had nominated Wickard for Secretary of Agriculture. On August 23, 1940, the Senate confirmed the appointment and Wickard was sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture. That same day Wickard wrote to President Roosevelt:

I am sincerely appreciative of the high honor you do me in nominating me to succeed Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace. I will do my utmost to merit the confidence and trust you have placed in me.

Wickard told the press he would “continue the Wallace policies.” Hoosier farm and political leaders, including Indiana Governor M. Clifford Townsend, Lieutenant Governor Henry F. Schricker, and Farm Bureau President Hassil E. Schenck, expressed support for Wickard’s appointment through Indiana newspapers. Governor Townsend summed up the general reception by Hoosiers when he told the Indianapolis Star, “The farmers all respect Claude because of his practical knowledge of their problems.”

[11] Franklin D. Roosevelt to Edwin Watson, memorandum, January 11, 1941, Folder: 1941, Official File 1, Department of Agriculture, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Edwin M. Watson to Claude Wickard, memorandum, March 18, 1941, Folder: 1941, Official File 1, Department of Agriculture, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Franklin D. Roosevelt to Claude Wickard, U.S. Naval Communication (telegram), March 28, 1941, Folder: 1941, Official File 1, Department of Agriculture, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Franklin D. Roosevelt to Claude Wickard, memorandum, May 20, 1941, Folder: 1941, Official File 1, Department of Agriculture, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Franklin D. Roosevelt to Claude Wickard, memorandum, October 3, 1941, Folder: 1941, Official File 1, Department of Agriculture, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Claude Wickard to Franklin Roosevelt, September 26, 1941, Folder: 1941, Official File 1, Department of Agriculture, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Claude Wickard to Franklin D. Roosevelt, April 4, 1942, Folder: 1942, Official File 1, Department of Agriculture, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; “For the Press: Statement by the President,” July 9, 1942, Folder: 1942, Official File 1, Department of Agriculture, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Executive Order: Delegating Authority with Respect to the Nation’s Food Program,” December 5, 1942, Folder: 1942, Official File 1, Department of Agriculture, Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President; “Wickard Over Civil, Military Allied Food Use,” (Clinton) Daily Clintonian, December 7, 1942, 1, Newspapers.com; “Roosevelt Appoints Wickard Food Czar; Stops Enlistments,” Dixon (IL) Evening Telegraph, December 7, 1942, 1, Newspapers.com; “Wickard Is All Powerful As Food Czar,” Rushville Republican, December 7, 1942, 4, Newspapers,com; “Davis Succeeds Claude Wickard as Food Czar,” (Hammond) Times, March 26, 1943, 1, Newspapers.com; Albertson, 269-270, 398; Collingham, 75-77.

Technological improvements, combined with the New Deal policies that aided farmers, allowed farmers to produce more food than ever before by the late 1930s. In fact, increased yields combined with the decreased buying power of the average American during the Great Depression created surpluses of agricultural goods. Thus, American farmers were uniquely positioned to aid U.S. allies when WWII broke out in Europe and to supply its efforts on the home front as well. According to agricultural historian Lizzie Collingham:

The wartime boom in American agriculture meant that the United States was not only able to provide its enormous army and civilian population with plentiful quantities of food, it was also able to feed the soldiers and civilians of the Soviet Union, China and Great Britain.

As Secretary, Claude Wickard was responsible for making sure that all of these demands were met. He coordinated and combined the standard responsibilities of the Department of Agriculture with the demands of the War Department. He attended cabinet meetings and defense meetings and advised the President and the War Department on all food-related matters, bills, and agreements. Albertson referred to Wickard succinctly as “the man more responsible than any other for the food without which the war would have been lost.” Collingham expounded:

The Agriculture Minister, Claude Wickard, urged farmers to grow as much as they could, telling them ‘this is our war and not anyone else’s war.’ Farmers were provided with the incentive of guaranteed farm prices fixed at 110 per cent parity with industrial goods for the duration of the war. Wickard was proved right. By 1942 it was clear that food production was going to be a vital and highly profitable aspect of America’s contribution to the war effort.

However, young men leaving the farm to enlist or take higher paid industrial jobs in war related work, led large farms to complain of labor shortages. (Whether there was an actual shortage or just a shortage of workers willing to labor for Depression-era pay is debated by historians.) Wickard helped address a potential labor shortage by importing foreign workers through a negotiations which created the Bracero program. (See the Indiana History Blog for more information.)

                On December 6, 1942, President Roosevelt named Wickard War Food Administrator through an executive order and tasked him with “full responsibility for and control over” all the food requirements home and abroad. (Wickard remained Secretary of Agriculture as well.) This naming of Wickard as “chief of food production, processing, transportation and rationing” was meant to “centralize wartime authority” over all issues related to food and war. According to an Associated Press article which ran in newspapers across the country, including in the Rushville Republican summarized:

Wickard was placed in full charge of determining the requirements in this field of the civilian population, the armed services the lend-lease administration and foreign governments, of formulating and conducting a program to produce the necessary foods, and of allocating them when they are produced.

In the press, Wickard was referred to as the “Food Czar” and quoted extensively. He told an AP reporter, “good food and plenty of it is one of the best missionaries for democracy that I know of.” He held the position until

March 26, 1943 when he was succeeded by Chester C. Davis. Wickard continued as Secretary of Agriculture, “returning to his agricultural post with his department such as it was before the war emergency.”

[12] Newspapers in this footnote accessed Newspapers.com unless otherwise noted.Harry S. Truman to Claude R. Wickard, May 23, 1945, Papers of Claude Wickard; “Wickard Is Only Truman Appointee Facing Fight,” Indianapolis News, May 24, 1945, 11; “Truman Names 3 New Cabinet Members: Clark, Anderson Succeed Biddle, Claude Wickard,” (Allentown, PA) Morning Call, May 24, 1945, 1; “State Farm Bureau Backs Wickard for REA Post,” (Richmond) Palladium-Item, May 29, 1945, 7; “Senate Studies Nomination of Wickard to REA,” (Benton Harbor, MI) News-Palladium, June 11, 1945, 8; “Senate Ag Group Okay’s Wickard’s REA Nomination,” Carrol (IA) Daily Times, June 14, 1945, 4; “Senate Confirms Wickard to REA,” (Eau Claire, WI) Leader-Telegram, June 22, 1945, 1; “Senate OK’s Wickard for REA Post, 56-to-6,” (Columbus) Republic, June 22, 1945, 1; “REA Post Confirmed,” (Seymour) Tribune, June 22, 1945, 5; “Senate Confirms Claude Wickard As REA Boss,” Austin (TX) American, June 22, 1945, 5; “Wickard Sees Rosy Postwar,” Indianapolis News, August 1, 1945, 13; “Wickard Predicts REA Extension,” Indianapolis Star, August 2, 1945, 11; “Wickard Resigns as REA Head; To Return to Farm in Indiana,” (Richmond) Palladium-Item, March 17, 1953, 1; “Claude Wickard Leaving Post of REA Director,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, March 17, 1953, 1; “Claude Wickard Killed in Crash,” New York Times, April 30, 1967, 87, timesmachine.nytimes.com; Albertson, 398.

After President Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Secretary Wickard submitted his resignation to President Harry S. Truman. This was a traditional formality for cabinet members after an election or upon change of administration. However, Truman accepted Wickard’s resignation but asked him to serve as administrator of the Rural Electrification Administration. On May 23, Truman announced Wickard as his pick for REA administrator. While Wickard and some of his supporters were initially disappointed by the change in position, Wickard had long valued the work of the REA. Washington WNU correspondent Walter A. Shead reported that Wickard, while still Secretary of Agriculture, expressed that it was his “dream . . . to bring REA service to every farm home in America and to make electricity available to some $3,665,000 farms and rural establishments in the immediate five-year period following the war.” The Senate confirmed Wickard’s REA appointment on June 21, 1945, with a vote of 56-6. In a 1952 report, Wickard described the significance of the agency:

The rural electrification program came into existence to provide an essential service which was not being provided and which individual farmers working alone could not provide for themselves. Widespread rural electric service was needed to expand the horizon of opportunity for rural people, to raise their level of living, and to increase the efficiency of farm production. Thus, the establishment of the program reflected the widely accepted basic principle that it is the responsibility and function of democratic government to provide protection and opportunity for its people and to assist them in doing things which they cannot do for themselves.

Wickard served as REA administrator until March 1953, working between the St. Louis headquarters and the Washington, D.C. office. The New York Times reported that before he retired from the REA, “88.1 per cent of all farms had electricity.”