by Jerry Harrington
When most Iowans think of their native sons and the U.S. presidency, Herbert Hoover is the first name that comes to mind. But there was one other native Iowan who came close to occupying the Oval Office – Henry A. Wallace of Des Moines.
Wallace was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second vice president, selected in 1940 by FDR as his running mate when seeking an unprecedented third term. Four years later, however, when Roosevelt ran for a fourth term, Wallace was tossed off the Democratic ticket and replaced by Harry S. Truman, who became vice president on January 20, 1945. With Roosevelt’s death on April 12, Truman took the presidential oath.
As the man next in line to the presidency the previous four years, Wallace was one heartbeat and 82 days from being President of the United States.
But this high public office was only one of Wallace’s many legacies. An innovative plant geneticist, Wallace was a significant leader in the development of hybrid corn, helping to dramatically transform agriculture through higher corn yields.
Wallace also founded the first business to market hybrid seed corn to growers, spreading this remarkable scientific breakthrough to growers throughout Iowa and the Midwest.
As Secretary of Agriculture prior to his vice presidency, Wallace molded the modern U.S. Department of Agriculture, permanently transforming the relationship between farmers and the federal government.
He was also an influential editor of a statewide farm magazine, aggressively promoting modern agricultural practices to help Iowa farmers improve their lives and incomes.
Any one of these accomplishments would cast Henry A. Wallace as a towering figure of influence among Iowans. Together, these place Wallace among the most important figures in the 20th Century to Iowans.
Born on a farm in Adair County, Iowa, on October 7, 1888, Wallace grew up in a family driven by public service. Wallace’s grandfather, Henry Wallace founded Wallaces Farmer, an Iowa farm magazine still published today, and Wallace’s father, Henry C. Wallace, was a national farm leader who served as Secretary of Agriculture in the early 1920s.