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Prairie Farmer celebrates 180 years

Slideshow: Take a look back at 180 years’ worth of cover stories, farmers, livestock and more, including favorite columnists and eye-catching advertisements.

Holly Spangler, Prairie Farmer Senior Editor

December 1, 2021

25 Slides

Prairie Farmer, America’s oldest magazine, is celebrating a milestone: 180 years of supplying information for farmers and rural America.

“There’s something powerful when talking to people about Farm Progress and saying we’ve been in business for 180 years, thanks to Prairie Farmer,” says Willie Vogt, editorial director.

Back in 1841, John S. Wright started the magazine to help pioneers on the prairie learn how to produce crops and livestock on “western” soils, promote education, carve out a living and, in general, deliver the news and information they needed to know.

“When you consider what this magazine has seen and covered in agriculture in that time, it truly boggles the mind,” Vogt says.

In the beginning

Wright saw the possibilities in Midwestern agriculture in turning the soil and growing crops that would ultimately make Illinois farmland some of the most prolific in the entire world.

A child prodigy who mastered arithmetic, grammar and geology by age 7, and Greek and Latin by age 10, Wright opened The Prairie Store with his father at age 17 in the muddy river town of Chicago — then population 3,500, and a stop on the way to the mining boomtown of Galena, Ill.

By age 19, Wright had published a lithograph map of Chicago and recorded its inhabitants in a census. By age 23, he was lobbying the halls of the Illinois State Capitol, calling for recognition of Illinois’ great agricultural potential and the need to work together to achieve it.

At age 26, Wright founded and published The Union Agriculturist and Western Prairie Farmer, which would soon be shortened to Prairie Farmer. Over the years, even Abraham Lincoln became a subscriber and read stories that undoubtedly influenced his opinions.

Much has changed as 180 years have ticked by — horses to horsepower, fences to fencerows, villages to major cities. But a lot hasn’t.

Editors write about pattern drainage tile, in 1884 and today. They write about corn growing, for decades upon decades. Prairie Farmer still covers farm family living. The magazine celebrated Master Farmers in 1925 as in 2021, and put on Farm Progress Shows for 68 years. Your favorite columnists have graced the print and digital pages, from Cap’n Stubby and Delight Wier to Mike Wilson and Kendra Smiley.

From the beginning, Prairie Farmer editors have called on farmers to tell their stories, and its editors are grateful for every story told, every farmer behind them and every ag innovation along the way.

Here’s to the next 180 years!

Read more: For more Prairie Farmer history, check out this roundup of stories from the 175th anniversary.

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Prairie Farmer Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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