Historical Roots of Marcus
The Farmers Cooperative Elevator of Marcus, Iowa, is the oldest active cooperative elevator in the nation. Our grandfathers received their inspiration for such an institution from the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers formed in England in 1844. Rochdale’s major cooperative tenet is the patronage refund method, by which supplies are sold at market prices and savings returned to purchasers in proportion to the volume of their patronage.
When the Marcus organization was formed in 1887, it became part of one of the fiercest commercial battles ever fought on American soil. The “new” railroads, in an attempt to increase their tonnage, had constructed elevators in the villages. These were often sold to one individual and the prices would be fixed at each of the “line elevators.” The poor farmers had no competition for their grain and the price received was always unsatisfactory. It was not unusual for the line elevator operators to realize a 50% margin on grain. They would buy from the farmer at 40 cents per bushel and ship it out at 80 cents.
The first Iowa coop elevator to be formed in the face of this stern opposition was started at Blairstown in 1868. Numerous others began operation, but Marcus was the earliest one that achieved permanent status.
Marcus Shipping Association was the name given the original organization. It was incorporated at Marcus, Iowa on the 12th day of December 1887. $410,000 was authorized as the amount of capital stock. Officers were Wireman Miller, president, and John L. Larson, secretary. The stockholders met annually on the second Monday in December.
As early as 1883, Marcus was recognized as the second most important shipping point between Dubuque and Sioux City. The Marcus shipping association was authorized to be a general purchasing and shipping business. However, it soon became apparent that it was the immense crop of small grain, wheat and oats, barley and flax, which tended to swell the shipping interests. The association erected a wooden elevator, and thereafter, the business was generally referred to as “the farmers elevator.” By September 1896, the farmers elevator was a thriving concern, taking in 60 loads of grain every work day during the harvest.
The old steam plant which powered the elevator was removed in April 1899. They then installed a large gas engine “of the latest and most improved make.” The 1898-1899 board of the Marcus Shipping Association included: A. J. Cushman, president; H. S. Brigs, vice-president; J. Larson, secretary; Louis Gund, treasurer; Frank Tschill, C. V. Peters, J. M. Helin, Robert Gracey, and Thomas Delaney.
At the turn of the century, many members and directors gave voice to the farmers movement which was stirring. On March 23, 1912, they incorporated as the Farmers Elevator Company. It was capitalized for $5,000 or not more than $25,000. This was chiefly a stock company with shares at $20. They also sold half shares. it was a cooperative in nature as each man had only one vote.
The original officers of the Farmers Elevator Company were J. Q. Arnold, president; L. M. Miller, vice-president; C. V. Peters, secretary; W. L. Gund, treasurer; E. A. Simons, M. McKeever, J. B. Carey, H. E. Neir and Albert Anderson, directors.
In 1919, the first major construction took place. The old elevator was razed in April 1919 and a new 35,000 bushel facility with steel siding was built on the same site. The modern equipment included: a man lift, as the new plant was completely electrified; 12 bins, all hopper bottom; a ten ton truck scale and a 1500 lb. automatic hopper scale. An outside office of tile and a 28 x 40 warehouse were additional features. L. M. Wood, the manager, added livestock feeds, salt and seeds as new product lines. They re-opened for business August 1, 1919.
The exact board for 1919 is not known, but many were holdovers to the 1921 board which included O. E. Heline, president; H. E. Neir, vice-president; C. V. Peters, secretary; W. L. Gund, treasurer; A. Kenny, Ralph Porter, Henry Dorr, Sr., A. F. Swanson, and Adam Grauer. One man from this board, Mr. Heline, went on to become president of the state grain marketing cooperative, FGDA. He later became a director of the National Cooperative Elevator and Grain Association.
Some of these same directors and a few elevator members desired a livestock marketing service. They took the name Shipping Association and established a business separate from the elevator. Merle Weicht was the manager and maintained an office where the Marcus Panatorium is now located. They accepted small lots of livestock, made up carloads and handled the marketing for their members. This company also came into direct competition with the elevator by buying feed in carloads; the farm wagons were loaded directly from the boxcar, thus eliminating the handling charge the elevator was required to add to its price. The success of the venture was short-lived and in 1925, it was accepted that the Shipping Association again connect with the elevator, with the manager of the elevator to act for both. James Meylor was later hired to manage the elevator livestock interests. He did so until they discontinued the hog operation in the early 1940’s.
In 1938, a board of directors was reactivated for the Shipping Association comprising: Robert Porter, Arthur Swanson, Oscar Heline, Gust Alesch, and Fred Ritchie. These men directed that the funds of the concern be turned over to Goodburn Post, American Legion. Ralph Scott, the elevator manager, discharged all obligation to the one time Marcus Shipping association by paying $750.71 to Mr. Walsh, Legion commander. This money was applied to the cost of a new Legion Hall. On March 21, 1938, the Marcus Shipping Association was officially terminated.
Articles of Incorporation of the Farmers Elevator Company were amended in June 1923. They raised the amount of capital stock from $25,000 to $50,000. At that time, the total shares of stock outstanding numbered 1071. An amendment was made to allow each member to hold 20 shares of stock, rather than a limit of 10 as per the original articles.
The 1912 Charter expired in 1932, and a special stockholders meeting was called April 2, 1932. A representative of Farmer Grain Dealers Association explained the procedure for incorporating as a straight cooperative and this was accepted. Stock was revalued at $10 and replaced old stock on a basis of 2 to 1 to eliminate the existing half shares. Terms of all directors expired at rechartering, and those elected at the annual meeting in June 1932 included: Frank Rubbert, president; Walter J. Miller, secretary-treasurer; Joe Carey, vice-president; James Brady, Harry Neir, John Holmes, Otis Briggs, James Meylor, and Stanley Addy. In April 1951, the charter was again renewed; every $10 share of stock was revalued upward to $30 per share. The name of the firm was changed from Farmers Elevator Company to Farmers Cooperative Elevator.
In 1989 a ballot was put forth to the members, proposing to merge the Farmers Coop with Cleghorn and Cherokee and also the Larrabee Farmers Coop. This ballot was passed at all the coops.
The next decision was what to name the new cooperative. With Marcus being the oldest continuous cooperative in the nation, they didn’t want to lose their identity, so the new coop was named “First Farmers Cooperative Elevator.” It was then decided to make the general office at Cleghorn because it was in the middle of the territory. The following year, First Farmers Coop purchased Frederickson Grain Company in Meriden. This brought the total of five locations together to form the First Farmers Cooperative Elevator.
Since the merger, the Marcus and Larrabee feed mills have been upgraded. Marcus installed a new roller grinder, bulk choice white grease and a computer batching system. The roller grinder was moved from Cleghorn to Larrabee. Bulk choice white grease and a storage bin for quick grain pick up was added. A 212,000 bushel bin was put up in Cherokee in August of 1995. A new fertilizer and chemical plant was built in Cleghorn in 1995 and 1996 to accommodate all the locations.
A mission statement was adopted which set forth: “First Farmers Cooperative exists to provide services and markets that enhance patrons’ operations and ensure the stability of the cooperative.”
A review of equipment purchases over a 50 year period indicates the progress of the elevator:
1927 – built a scale house and a tankage house
1929 – an oats-huller, costing $1220
1931 – A 2nd hand feed mixer
1935 – purchased the old Edmonds and Londergan Co. coal sheds
1937 – a needler to clean and grade barley
1938 – 34 ft. Fairbanks scale with registering beam.
1939 – remodeled the drive to 14 x 32 ft. size
1941 – electric grain moisture tester
1942 – started to handle Tyden Feeds and built a feed shed
1946 – purchased a corn drier
1947 – put in a new coalyard and coal loader
1949 – erected 2 steel storage tanks 26 x48
1950 – a new Burrows bookkeeping machine
1955 – 250,000 bu. concrete elevator
1956 – bought lots 1, 2 and 3 on block 2, $4,250 , erected 2 steel buildings, south one 50 x 120 and west one 50 x 90
1958 – 4 Butler feed storage tanks
1959 – 64 bin feed mill, produces 6-7 ton hog and 6 ton cattle pellets per hour, also a liquid fertilizer mixing and manufacturing plant
1961 – repairs to old wood elevator
1963 – Aqua Ammonia fertilizer plant with blending facilities was installed; a feed handling contract with CCA was initiated.
1964 – 12,000 gal. fertilizer tank
1965 – new office and 10 x 70 ft. scales, with 124,000 capacity
1966 – dry blend fertilizer plant and equipment was installed
1967 – added a dust collector to the concrete elevator; put in a hot spot detector; erected a new 1500 Clipper -Randolf Dryer
1968 – 247,000 bu. concrete elevator annex
1969 – maintenance shop
The second period of major construction occurred in 1954-55. A 250,000 bu. concrete elevator was completed, with the open house on May 14, 1955. The 146 ft. structure, comprising nine silos, each 18 ft. wide, cost $150,000. Over half of that amount was obtained from local investors by the sale of building notes; the remainder was borrowed from the Omaha Bank for Cooperatives.
Members of the board in 1955 were: Will Berger, president; D. C. Drefke, vice-president; Jams Brady, secretary-treasurer; Lee Grauer, George Lutkins, Leo Alesch, Elon Kirchoff, Lester Brigs and Roy E. Nelson.
A 24,000 bushel elevator annex was completed in the fall 1968. The six concrete silos, each 22 ft. wide, measured 130 ft in height. The total cost for the annex, with hot spot detectors installed was $150,000.
The board of directors in 1968 included: William J. Berger, president; Cecil Irwin, vice-president; John Reimers, secretary-treasurer; David Kerr, James Cave, Lowell Erickson, Milton Delperdang, Harvey Miller, and Glenn Kirchoff. Intermediate directors, who also served during these 13 years of major construction, were Arlie Grage and Lawrence Wurth.
The directors expanded the interests of the firm to the benefit of the elevator, the community and the region:
August 9, 1945 – decided to buy $1,000 membership in the Sheldon soybean plant (Big-4); 1949 purchased stock in the Marcus Fair Association; bought $500 stock in Greater Marcus, Inc.; January 10, 1953; in 1954 became a member of the Omaha Bank for Cooperatives; October 1957 put $100 in CCA feed plant at Ida Grove; $1000 stock in Marcus Medical Center purchased in 1960; joined Iowa Institute for Cooperation in 1962; bought $1,000 stock in Marcus Golf Club; 1963; gave $100 to 1966 MHS band uniform drive; March 1967, $100 donation to Emergency Truck Fund.
A number of social events have been held in conjunction with the elevator. In August 1919, the members had a basket dinner in Frank Beck’s (Galigan’s) grove, 1/2W and 1/2N of town. The local traveler, H. M. Ferrin, told of his visits in 17 states with a wagon pulled by two mules. A cracker eating contest, fat man’s race, tug ‘o war and baseball were other diversions.
The annual meeting in 1955 was held in the drive of the new concrete elevator; ice cream was distributed, also free tickets to the Marland Theatre featuring “Davy Crockett.” The next year, the annual was observed in one of the new steel buildings. The first banquet for the membership occurred August 6, 1958; ladies of Holy Name Church served an average of 400 people at this event each year.
The following men have been managers of the elevator:
1905-1913: Ben Delaney
1913-1916 P. H. McEwen
1916 – 1917 Lee M. Wood
1917 – 1919 Charles Swindle
1919 – 1922 Lee M. Wood
1922 – 1924 Glenn Hall
1924 – 1929 C. W. “Casey” Brower
1929 – L. Ludwig, Mr. Foristal, Mr. Grubbs
1930 – WilliamsBass
1931 – 1940 Ralph Scott
1940 – 1942 Floyd Graham
1942 – 1944 Ralph Scott
1944 – 1956 Harold Stienjes
1956 – 1957 Joe Comp
1957 – 1963 Don Anderson
1963 – 1971 Harold M. Bolton
Employees in 1971 were: Charles Beaton, John Clarkson, Don Dreflke, Robert Ruden, Sylvan Schuknecht, Dennis Nelson, Dale Dorr, Chuck Gerringer, Bert Ahrens, Leonard Schnoes, Ray Flanagan, Dick Schroeder, Harold Bolton, manager.
The 1970-1971 board of directors included: Lowell Ericksen, president; William J. Berger, vice-president; John Reimers, secretary; David Kerr, James Cave, Harvey Miller, Milton Delperdang, James Alesch, Lawrence Wurth.
As of May 31, 1970, the elevator had total assets of $1,082,871. The allocated patronage refunds amounted to $383,609. The Marcus Elevator News, issued monthly since October 1970, keeps the patrons informed as to the operation of their cooperative.
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