National Geographic : 1948 Jun
Mapping the Nation's Breadbasket BY FREDERICK SIMPICH IT WAS June. Flying west over Lake Michigan, steering our plane for Illinois skies, we saw Chicago's towers suddenly poke up from the blue water. It was as if from Queen Mary's rail, on some Atlantic crossing, you might behold a glistening city lift itself from ocean's depths. Seconds later we looked down on the ele vated railroad circling the Loop, pounding heart of this monster city. There was the 43-story Board of Trade Building-topped by the figure of Ceres, god dess of grain-where at 9:30 every morning a bell clangs to open the big grain market, shouting brokers buy and sell, and tickers flash to distant farmers news of changing prices (page 833). In another minute we were over spreading Union Stock Yards, host last year to 6,650,000 cattle, horses, hogs, and sheep. To this world's greatest sales pen trains roll in from all over the Midwest, helping make Chicago the busiest railroad center ever known. In and out of it passenger trains run at the rate of one a minute, and every day some 45,000 freight cars hit its busy switches. One of Earth's Great Producing Areas On a map of the North Central United States, published with this issue of the NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC,* you can see how rails, highways, rivers, and canals link Chicago with such other busy Midwest cities as Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Topeka, Lincoln, Omaha, Sioux Falls, and Des Moines (page 850).t The map shows how, by the Mississippi River and connected inland waterways, car goes of wheat ride from Minnesota down to the South, and southern oil or sugar goes up stream to Omaha or Minneapolis. In water borne commerce with ports as far away as Houston, Texas, the Chicago Harbor District, using the canal that connects Lake Michigan with the Illinois River, moves about as much freight as passes through the Panama Canal. As for air mail and air travel, there's hardly a sizable town from Ohio out to North Dakota or from Wisconsin down to the Missouri Ozarks but has its airport or is in easy reach of one. It takes these many trains, planes, trucks, and barges to handle Midwest commerce be cause, mile for mile, State for State, no equal area on our planet yields such farm wealth. Its industrial wealth is also enormous. Consider our Corn Belt alone (page 839). It reaches west from central Ohio, takes in most of Indiana and Illinois, parts of Mis souri, nearly all of Iowa, and parts of Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota. This almost level area is more intensively cultivated than any other of its size in the entire Nation. Where Tall Corn Turns to Meat Nature made Iowa one big cornfield. Cli mate, depth and richness of porous soil, and quality of seed bring average yields of 50 or more bushels per acre, and record crops up to 150 bushels. This corn is mostly fed to stock and sold as meat.4 With 93-percent literacy, Iowa is famed for excellence of schools, its experiments in finding new uses for farm products, and, notably, for the work of its State College at Ames in producing better pigs. It leads all States in corn, oats, hogs, and eggs. In value of farm products, Iowa runs nip and tuck with California; first one's ahead, then the other. Texas raises more cattle, but more are fattened in Iowa than in any other State. But you have only to look at costly farm machinery, fat, sleek stock, well-painted houses and barns, fine roads, and all the shiny automobiles to see what good country life this Corn Belt puts in reach of farmers who mix brains with sweat. Nor does Iowa, or any other Midwest State, think only of plows, cows, pigs, hens, and manure. Des Moines, for example, sometimes called America's farm capital, is noted for its farm papers, for J. N. ("Ding") Darling's protect-our-wildlife cartoons in the Register, and for its share in making or selling some of the washing machines, fountain pens, cos metics, farm implements, lawn mowers, vend ing machines, and railway equipment which Iowa produces. * Members may obtain additional copies of the new map of the North Central United States (and of all standard maps published by The Society) by writing to the National Geographic Society, Washington 6, D. C. Prices, in United States and Possessions, 50< each, on paper; $1 on linen; Index, 25¢. Outside United States and Possessions, 75 on paper; $1.25 on linen; Index, 50¢. All remittances payable in U. S. funds. Postage prepaid. t See "Illinois, Crossroads of the Continent," by Junius B. Wood, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1931. SSee"Iowa, Abiding Place of Plenty," by Leo A. Borah, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1939.