Born in June 1898 into a prominent merchant family, Roswell Garst personifies the romantic American ideals of hard work and innovation. Garst grew up working on a 200 hundred-acre farm before leaving home to attend Iowa State College. Garst soon became disenchanted with his college education, dropping out of Iowa State College, the University of Wisconsin, and Northwestern University. Although Garst never completed a professional degree, he left his post-secondary education “eager to prove himself as good as or superior to academicians” (Agricultural Hall of Fame). Following his exit from college, Garst would meet and collaborate with Henry A. Wallace, who would later become the United States Secretary of Agriculture and Vice-President to Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the biggest influencers of the 19th century.
Wallace, who was the editor of the nationally renowned Wallace’s Farmer, introduced Garst to an experimental high-yielding strain of corn, which fascinated him. Although Garst was focused on his real-estate company at the time, the stock market crash of 1929 propelled back into the corn industry. After returning to Coon Rapids, Iowa, Garst made arrangements with Wallace to sell hybrid corn seed under a franchise of Wallace’s company. In the first year of production, Garst barely made enough to cover his costs, selling bushels of seed out of the trunk of his car to local farmers (Encyclopedia.com). It was at this moment that Garst exhibited his greatest entrepreneurial talent, which was the willingness to take a risk. He partnered with Charley Thomas, sold his dairy herd, and mortgaged his farm to support his fledgling business.
Thomas and Garst began traveling throughout the Corn Belt, selling hybrid-corn seed to local farmers and land-owning insurance companies. Farmers were amazed by the increased productivity of the hybrid-corn seed, and, by the end of 1930. Garst and Thomas sold 50,000 bushels. With his growing prominence throughout the Mid-West and his ties with Wallace, Garst springboarded onto the national stage, attending a national conference as a member of the Iowa Corn-Hog Committee (Garst). He was even offered a position at The Department of Agriculture, but he had no interest in serving in public office. However, Garst exhibited more entrepreneurial genius during WWII and the Cold War by taking advantage of his reputation and contacts within the U.S. government.
Garst bolstered his national reputation as he was repeatedly called on to advice the Allied Armies in matters of food production during World War II; he even did this while the United States was still a neutral party to the conflict. His constant involvement with the Department of Agriculture caused President Roosevelt to dub Garst the “Henry Kaiser of Agriculture” (Iowa University). As the Cold War loomed around the world and Russians began immigrating to America, Garst took further action to solidify his entrepreneurial legacy. During the Cold War, Garst actively engaged the United States government to allow him to work with Soviet leaders in their attempt to increase their food supply. After he was given clearance to visit the Soviet Union, Garst ended up developing personal relationships with top Soviet officials including Premier Nikita Khrushchev. In working with America’s greatest enemy at the time, Garst used his agricultural expertise to defuse tensions between the two nations. In 1959 Khrushchev visited the United States and asked specifically to visit Garst. Garst’s willingness and drive to solve world-hunger issues across the globe along with his continued commitment to his craft solidify him as one of the most visionary entrepreneurs of the 20th century.
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