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Barry Schrader
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I writing this column for the following newspaper;

  • Daily Chronicle : DeKalb County Life

The Articles started December 2007.

 

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DeKalb's famous "winged ear" gained worldwide recognition for city

By Barry Schrader.................................March 5, 2008

New York is identified with the "Big Apple" but DeKalb Agricultural Association, now owned by Monsanto, came up with one of the best-known corporate logos seen in the past century that has made the name DeKalb known around the world.
I hadn't given the origin or various designs of that "winged ear" much thought until a one-time soda jerk named Ron from The Holiday who worked at the Sycamore ice cream parlor in the late 1940s brought something to my attention. Examing the thirty-inch masonite DeKalb Ag symbol hanging on our wall, he pointed out the initials "A P" cleverly hidden in a lower row of kernals. He said that was his old customer Arlie Pearce who was a regular at The Holiday.
Upon investigating the origin and evolving design of that famous ear the DeKalb Ag employee magazine Interchange provided some early history. It seems that the late Tom Roberts, Sr. wanted a symbol that would identify the DeKalb Ag with its new hybrid corn. An employee at the time (about 1935), Ken Kramer, saw the flying horse symbol of the Mobil gas station out his office window and suggested putting those wings on the ear of corn, an idea that caught Roberts' fancy. So Kramer and a local sign artist came up with the first design which appeared in a Prairie Farmer magazine ad Oct. 24, 1936. Several iterations later commercial artist Arlie entered the picture. His firm, the J.V. Patten Company, had gotten the job of streamlining the ear design and making field signs by silkscreening the tri-color ear on masonite. He cleverly inserted his initials in the first version and it remained there for years. A Rockford company that later took over the sign manufacturing, Display Craft, also inserted its "DC" initials onto the signs for awhile, according to DeKalb resident Sue Breese, a former DeKalb Ag employee.
In a 1975 interview with Daily Chronicle Farm Editor Don Duncan, Arlie said the sign itself was a photographic reproduction of the most perfect hybrid ear that could be found. He added that the Sycamore company produced nearly 2 million of his popular design over a 40 year period. The winged ear logo had gained a fourth color--red-added to the original green, yellow and black, plus a white border to make it more visible against the green and brown background of cornfields. The first signs had been made of metal and were smaller. They were more expensive to make and now command more than $100 in antique shops if you can even find one
The colorful ears became such an attraction that they began disappearing from farms and dealers' signposts. It seemed that college students and other memorabilia collectors wanted them as souvenirs. For example, many NIU campus dorm rooms were adorned with the colorful symbol over the years. So the next step was to fabricate a cheaper corrugated plastic version and imprint that on a folded, two-sided sign. "The Ag" began offering it in stores around the area and even at the NIU Bookstore so everyone who wanted such a keepsake could get it cheaply, without sneaking onto a farmer's property.
When Arlie died in 1982 at age 79 his obituary in the papers neglected to credit him with designing one of the winged ears, but it did mention he "designed and installed Christmas murals at the DeKalb County Courthouse for many years." I wonder if his initials appeared anywhere on those cutout figures?

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barry815sbcglobal.net

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115

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