llan Aves’ basement is a shrine to all things DeKalb brand. Thousands of signs, hats and statues tout the national seed brand’s famous winged ear of corn logo synonymous with innovation and its namesake.
Farmers across the world use DeKalb brand seeds, but the logo resonates somewhere deeper than a viable agriculture product for locals who grew up with the winged ear in their backyards.
“It’s the most recognizeable logo in the world,” said Aves, who farms DeKalb products in Kirkland. “Hybrids are one of the big advancements in the agricultural world, and corn is the biggest crop we got. DeKalb went right to the top and I have a lot of pride in that.”
The DeKalb hybrid corn seed was created in 1935 by the DeKalb County Agricultural Assocation following a dozen years of work. In 1936, the winged ear made its first appearance as the first full-page color advertisement in any agricultural publication, telling farmers to “Let DeKalb Quality Hybrids be your mortgage lifter.”
DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association Museum curator Donna Langford said the company was flooded with orders, but had to refuse about 70 percent of them because the seed could not survive outside of northern Illinois.
The winged ear made its first farm field appearance around 1940. Over the decades, there were several tweaks to the color and font to make the logo stand out. The winged ear adorned hats, patches, pens and other items the company would give to farmers.
“There’s a strong sense of tradition and a strong sense of work ethic, and that logo is a part of that, so the employees and farmers would be proud,” Langford said.
When Creve Coeur, Missouri-based Monsanto Corp. purchased the brand in 1998, it knew the winged-ear was a huge part of the company being acquired, said DeKalb Brand marketing manager Rick Myroup. He said the company sells DeKalb-branded merchandise to more than 120,000 customers a year.
“Tremendous responsibility comes with carrying the legacy,” Myroup said.
Monsanto hasn’t remained stagnant in its DeKalb marketing efforts. The company unveiled the “electric wing” in 2012 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of DeKalb hybrids. The revamped logo is a vibrant yellow wing that will be used alongside the classic winged ear to signify the continued excitement surrounding the brand.
But make no mistake, Myroup said, the winged ear is here to stay.
“I can guarantee you the classic winged ear will always be part of DeKalb,” Myroup said.