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Dr. Isaac A. Smith

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Dr. Isaac A. Smith

County Coordinator (View posts)
Posted: 7 Nov 1999 5:00AM GMT
Classification: Biography
Edited: 23 Jun 2001 9:50AM GMT
From the "History of Huntington County, Indiana 1914"


But little over several decades ago "scientific agriculture" was little more than a high-sounding phrase; farming was generally considered as an occupation in which the surplus sons of the old-time large families might find their natural and only means of livelihood. With the passing of the years, however, developments of a startling character have been brought about that have entirely changed the aspect of farming as well as the attitude of mankind toward this vocation. Each year witnesses remarkable progress along this line, and to understand this aroused and continued interest, the effective work carried on during the last fifteen years by men like Dr. Isaac A. ("Soy Bean") Smith, of Warren, must be considered. A physician by profession, he gave up his practice to experiment along agricultural lines, and through his earnest and unceasing labors has contributed materially to Indiana's importance as an agricultural state, and the Bean Grove farm, a tract of 160 acres located three miles north of Warren, Indiana, on the southwest one-quarter of section 4, township 26 N., range 10, E, in Salamonie township, has been the scene of some remarkable developments and -discoveries.

Doctor Smith was born on the farm on which he now resides, April 1, 1849, and is a son of David G. and Mary (Johnson) Smith, the former a native of Muskingum county, Ohio, and the latter of Harrison county, that state. They were married in Ohio, and in 1844 migrated to Indiana, locating in Salamonie township, where they entered a tract of 160 acres, the quarter-section described above, all at that time covered by a dense growth of timber. Mr. Smith engaged in farming, cleared his land and became one of the substantial men of his community. He was progressive in his work and public-spirited as a citizen, and is remembered as a man of firm convictions and even temperament. He was the father of five children, of whom two are now living: Thomas J., a resident of Sedgwick City, Kansas; and Isaac A.

Dr. Isaac A. Smith received his early education in the district school, following which he became a pupil in a select school at Warren. At the age of eighteen years he secured a teacher's license and began his educational work in Jefferson township, and, when opportunity offered, he attended Shurtleff College. Following this, he entered the department of medicine and surgery at the University of Michigan, and was graduated therefrom with the class of 1881, with the degree of Doctor of Medicine. In the same year he established himself in practice at Kelso, Indiana, and was rapidly rising in the ranks of his profession when ill health caused him to give it up after five and one-half years. Returning to the farm, he devoted himself to the raising of small fruits for about fifteen years, and at the end of that period, began to concentrate his activities upon the development of the soy bean and to legume inoculation, in which he has become so well known all over Indiana and the surrounding states that he has been given the nick-name "Soy-Bean" Smith.

To quote from Doctor Smith's book on this product, "the soy bean is probably the best plant known at present to grow protein for domestic animals in what is known as the corn belt, and second only to clover as an agent to supply nitrogen to the soil-even this latter point may be contested, if we consider the comparative time each crop occupies the land, and are satisfied to remove and sell off the land as small a per cent of the crop as we do of the clover. As compared with the cow pea it is hardier, may be planted earlier in the season and makes its full plant growth more quickly." It is interesting to note the manner in which Doctor Smith began to secure successful results in the cultivation of the soy bean. We are permitted to quote from the Indianapolis News, which, in an extensive article, said in part:

"These beans were little know among the farm products in Indiana and many farmers believed them, as some think of alfalfa, impossible of production in this state. Doctor Smith worked along with reasonable success, but, somehow, the soil did not bring forth the desired yield. In 1905 he received a circular from the Purdue agricultural experiment station telling of the tests made on the Purdue University farm in soil inoculation. The circular described the inoculation of soil by transferring bacteria-laden ground from a healthy farm to one lacking in the necessary nitrogen. In this case, the much-dreaded word, bacteria, meant profit instead of loss. The Purdue scientists made it clear that the transfer of soils containing the bacteria found on the roots of leguminous plants would reproduce a yield of the same crops in another field if all other soil conditions were right. Sour soil would, of course, reject all attempts at inoculation, but such conditions are easily remedied. The bulletin said, in discussing soil inoculationÂ…'Inoculation may be obtained by scattering over the field to be treated a small quantity (a hundred pounds or more an acre) from a field where the particular legume to be grown has been successfully produced.' It was the last sentence quoted above that caught the eye of Dr. Isaac Smith. If his farm could be made to successfully grow soy beans by the mere transfer of bacteria from the field where soy beans had already been grown he was going to give his farm some soy bean bacteria, as a soil strengthener. One morning Doctor Smith walked into the office of Prof. A. T. Wiancko, soil expert of the Purdue University school of agriculture. Under his arm he carried a large gunnysack.

" 'I'd like to get a little soil from your soy bean field to inoculate my farm,' Doctor Smith said. Professor Wiancko liked the businesslike tone of the farmer, but was compelled to reply: 'I'm sorry, but we're not permitted to give away any of the soil of the Purdue farm. If we did that it wouldn't be long before we would be without a farm.' 'But I just want a little,' Doctor Smith persisted. 'I've been trying to raise soy beans on my farm, but they don't seem to have the proper amount of growing energy. I thought I'd try inoculating a little piece of ground in a field where soy beans had never been grown. It struck me you fellows here would have just the right kind of soil to give me a start.' Professor Wiancko found in Doctor Smith exactly the sort of man for whom the university's experiment station was looking. The school had preached the gospel of soil inoculation, and here was a man ready to try it. The Purdue expert recalled that the men on the farm were employed at that moment plowing in a field that had contained soy beans. He decided to give Doctor Smith a start, and the two went to the soy bean field. There they found the soil rich with the little nodules that contain the nitrogen-giving power. Professor Wiancko explained the fine qualities of this form of plant bacteria and then gave Doctor Smith all the soil he could carry. The Huntington county farmer hurried homeward. On his way, he told several farmers of his intention to inoculate his farm and they laughed at him. Doctor Smith selected for his experiment a corner of one of his least productive fields, a tract that had been steadily farmed for years and practically was without soil life. He prepared the tract for inoculation and then placed the Purdue farm soil in a corn drill. Every particle had been crushed so that it would easily pass through the drill. The soil was then distributed over the tract. It was a happy experiment. Doctor Smith's soy bean seed brought forth a good yield the next year, and he then transferred some of the soil from the yielding tract to another that was nonproductive.
Gradually he has inoculated his farm until today he has sixty acres in soy beans and is making money out of them. Not only is Doctor Smith finding the growing of soy beans profitable as a hog and cattle fattener, but he is marketing hundreds of bushels to other farmers for seed. He is also selling soil for inoculation purposes and, further, is preparing for the market a process of inoculation that will enter into competition with other prepared bacterial cultures now on the market. He says his process is to be used in connection with the transfer of soils, but the method he holds a secret. There are several patented methods of inoculation, some of which the agricultural experts say are effective while many others are pure fakes and cost American farmers thousands of dollars a year.

"Doctor Smith's experience with soy beans shows what is possible in soil development. When he began experimenting with bacteria he was the only farmer in north central Indiana who felt confident of the result. As a scientific man he knew he would at least improve his farm. From the start the soybeans made good. So successful was the experiment that in 1911 Doctor Smith told Professor Wiancko that he was in doubt regarding the future disposition of his soybean crop. He did not know whether to sell the beans or feed them to the hogs. He had been receiving three dollars a bushel for the beans. With pencil and paper and a good pair of scales he proved to himself that even at three dollars a bushel he could make more money feeding the beans to his stock than by selling the bulk beans. He weighed his hogs at the beginning of the fattening season. So splendidly did they thrive on the beans that he figured soy beans at three dollars a bushel as a loss. He figured he could at least make $3.50 or $4.00 a bushel out of the beans as they produced fat on the hogs. In 1912 he had a crop of sixty acres of soybeans. He has averaged better than twenty-two bushels to the acre in past years. Doctor Smith has an interesting sample of this year's (1912) soybean crop. He has cut one stalk that contains seven hundred pods, or about fourteen hundred beans, there being an average of two beans in one pod. The physician-farmer has been trying the experiment of feeding the soy beans to his cows, and he declares there is no greater butter fat producer."

Here, then, is a record of achievement well worth the life labors of any man. Throughout his career, Doctor Smith has steadfastly endeavored to raise the standard of agriculture and to encourage the efforts of his fellow agriculturists to make their land more productive. Witness the closing paragraph of his booklet on legume inoculation published in 1913: "In our efforts to build up a prosperous and permanent agriculture, we must keep continuously before us the fact that all plant life depends upon a series of chemical changes, mutually dependent upon each other, forming as it were an endless chain, whose working strength is measured by its weakest link, working automatically when the raw material and the proper conditions are supplied. For instance the raw material for the manufacturer of protein is everywhere inexhaustible. Its manufacture is governed chiefly by activities of the Azotic bacteria, and these again depend upon the existence and thrift of their particular family legume, and its vigorous development is possible only when abundantly supplied, in available form with the various elements entering its make-up; these again depend on the disintegrated remains of former generations of plant life; and thus the round moves on with a vigor which rises and falls in direct ratio with the activities that strengthen each individual link in the chain and determine the sum of results. It
is therefore evident that if we would draw largely on this store of unlimited wealth of nitrogen, we must have a chain that draws, and supply each and every link in that chain with the necessary strength to draw the load we want, and it rests with each individual husband-man to determine how heavy a load he will make it draw." Even when experimenting with small fruits, Doctor Smith was considered an authority in the farmers' institutes in this line, and it is needless to state that his advice and counsel are being continuously sought in the direction of his present endeavor. He specializes in the breeding of Duroc hogs, with which he has had most excellent success. While he has been an extremely busy man, with large interests to make demands upon his attention, he has-nevertheless been ever ready to bear his full share of the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. For eight years' he served as president of the council of Huntington County, and at the end of that period resigned. During this time the building of the New Court House took place and other large matters taken care of, and in every capacity the Doctor displayed his capability and through respect for the high responsibilities devolving upon him. He has been a supporter of republican principles all of his life. With his wife and children he attends the Baptist church, where he is serving as-a member of the board of trustees.

On April 15, 1876, Doctor Smith was married to Miss Amanda Garrett, who was born in Ashland County, Ohio, and roared in Wells county, Indiana, and to this union there have been born two children: Bertha E., a graduate of the Warren High school, who spent one term at the State Normal school and one year at Franklin College, now the wife of Clarence A. Craft, of Kokomo, Indiana, a graduate of Purdue University; and Lucian W., a graduate of the Warren High school and the Indiana Medical College and now a surgeon in the soldiers' home, at Lafayette.

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