Lester’s Legacy

A legend is born

To his neighbors in the small town of El Paso, IL., he was “Crazy Lester.” But so many great visionary’s stories start like that—they see something the rest of us just can’t get our heads around. And now, like so many innovators before him, Lester Pfister’s legacy is one that’s changed farming forever. The Pfister story is the story of hybrid corn.

A few paper bags and a vision

Starting around 1925, Lester Pfister began toiling in the cornfields of central Illinois, working to make his vision a reality—he was convinced there was a way to breed better corn. What ensued was a near decade-long experiment that had Lester tying paper bags over corn tassels and ear shoots to collect the pollen and prevent haphazard pollination.

Nearly losing it all

His inbreeding led to freakishly small ears of corn and made him virtually no money. In order to keep up his experiments, he mortgaged everything he owned. As the Great Depression was swiftly crushing the dreams of so many Americans, Lester marched on, sometimes only escaping bankruptcy by ducking meetings with his creditors.

As Time magazine told the story in 1949: “One day he went to an El Paso bank to plead for a last-ditch loan. Unwrapping a newspaper, he produced a ten-inch ear of corn, the best that any other Woodford County farmer had grown. Then he held up a handsome 14-inch ear of Pfister corn grown from hybrid seed. He got the loan.”

Winning big

Lester was an overnight success; orders rolled in from every state in the Corn Belt. He was named “Outstanding Corn Breeder of the World” by the Museum of Science and Industry. It was this early success that spurred the growth and commitment to excellence that is Pfister today. Since day one, Lester believed in doing things differently—and that’s a tradition that’s still alive and well at Pfister.

Watch the actual process Lester used to inbreed his famous corn.

I’ll be happy if I
can contribute just
a little that will take some more of
the gamble out
of farming.
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