One of the leading farm papers of the Midwest, Prairie Farmer was the most influential force in the commercialization of Illinois agriculture. Headquartered in Chicago, the paper not only promoted scientific farming practices but also was dedicated to improving rural life through education, recreation, and better health practices.
First published in 1841 by the Union Agricultural Society, Prairie Farmer was the brainchild of founding editor John S. Wright. After a succession of owners, newspaperman Burridge D. Butler bought the paper in 1909. By 1931 Butler had absorbed Prairie Farmer's competitors and expanded circulation to Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan by offering premiums, staging corn-husking contests, and landing the company plane in cow pastures. Butler purchased radio station WLS in 1928 to offer farm programming and produced the popular Barn Dance vaudeville show.
Butler saw his paper as the voice of the common farmer, and he conducted editorial campaigns against crime and deceptive marketing practices. The paper agitated for pro-farm legislation, and editor Clifford Gregory strongly supported the New Deal. From a peak of 370,000 subscribers in 1950, circulation dwindled below 60,000 at the end of the century, a sign of the declining importance of farming as a way of life.
Bardolph, Richard. Agricultural Literature and the Early Illinois Farmer. 1948.
Evans, James F. Prairie Farmer and WLS: The Burridge D. Butler Years. 1969.
Lewis, Lloyd. John S. Wright, Prophet of the Prairies. 1941.
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