Couple turns collection into ‘Corn Pickers’ book

posted July 16, 2018 7:50 a.m. (CDT)
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    Phyllis and Bob Johnson of rural Sycamore, Ill., have compiled and published the 804-page, 6.5 pound book, “Corn Pickers and the Inventors Who Dreamed Them Up.”
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    “Corn Pickers and the Inventors Who Dreamed Them Up” by Bob and Phyllis Johnson.

After 20 years of collecting corn picker sales literature and two years of intensive research, writing and layout, Bob and Phyllis Johnson of rural Sycamore, Ill., have compiled and published an 804-page, 6.5 pound, all-color book, “Corn Pickers and the Inventors Who Dreamed Them Up,” containing more than 1,500 color pictures, graphs and images.

“Corn Pickers and the Inventors Who Dreamed Them Up” tells the story of corn pickers from the earliest patents in 1850, to the first successful working models in the 1890s, to all the models by all the major manufacturers beginning in the early 1930s and their advertisements to farmers, through to the pickers’ eventual obsolescence in the 1970s when corn combines took over the field. Now, another 40 years later, farm implement collectors are bringing restored corn pickers to antique harvesting events, to show young people “how farming used to be done.”

In between those benchmark years, rare and unusual corn pickers were produced by smaller companies, and those stories also are in the book.

The comprehensive soft-cover book covers mechanical corn pickers made by all of the major manufacturers, and can serve as a guidebook for corn picker collectors and restorers, or people just wanting to know more about farming in the Corn Belt.

Early farmers grew limited acres of corn, planting most of their land to hay and oats to feed their livestock. Without mechanical corn pickers, farmers had to hire and feed laborers needed to pull the ears from stalks by hand, often in cold and stormy winters. Corn pickers changed the face of American agriculture, by making the corn easier to harvest, and thus a profitable cash crop.

After farmers started buying mechanical corn pickers, they were able to increase their corn fields by several hundred acres. Certain traits were needed in the corn plants, and both hybrid seed breeders and farm implement manufacturers worked hard to make farmers’ lives easier, and those stories also are in this book.

Max Armstrong, a farm broadcaster who wrote the foreword, said this is “an amazing book.”

The Johnsons are working on a new book, “Corn Cribs: Every Farm Had One,” and welcome pictures of unusual cribs.

The first edition of 125 copies of “Corn Pickers and the Inventors Who Dreamed Them Up” sold out in two days at the Half Century of Progress in August 2017; another 375 copies sold out before Christmas 2017. The Johnsons have been told this is a quality compendium, well worth the price of $135. Priority mail shipping costs $15 extra.

Additional copies of the book will be printed as interest continues.

For ordering information, visit or call or text Bob Johnson at 815-761-3709.

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