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Theodore A. Kiesselbach, Agronomy Papers

Identifier: RG-08-08-10

Scope and Contents

The Kiesselbach Agronomy Papers include biographical materials and publications by Kiesselbach on the topics related to his corn and crop research and experiments at the University of Nebraska. Significant materials include Kiesselbach’s autobiography, "What’s in a Life" (Box 4, folders 7-8), where he describes his experiences growing up on a farm in Custer and Polk Counties, Nebraska, his life as an early 1900s student at the University of Nebraska (UN), attending William Jennings Bryan’s Sunday school classes, a history of the UN Agriculture College, and details his crop research experiments and career.


  • Creation: 1904-1999


Biographical / Historical

Theodore “Mr. Corn” Kiesselbach (1884-1964), University of Nebraska Professor of Agronomy, is internationally renowned for his pioneering work in corn crossbreeding, corn hybrids, and crop improvement.

Theodore Alexander Kiesselbach was born March 14, 1884 to Alexander and Caroline Bayrhoffer Kiesselbach on a farm near Shelby, Polk County, Nebraska. Tragedy struck in 1888, with the sudden deaths of his father, brother, and grandfather from illness. Wanting a new start, Kiesselbach's mother leased out the family farm and moved with her five children to Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1895, after a drought severely reduced their income, the family returned to Custer County, Nebraska to help their bachelor uncle, Theodore Bayrhoffer, on his farm. In 1896, the Kiesselbachs returned home to the "Kiesselbach Brothers Farm" in Shelby, Nebraska, to raise hogs. Four years later, the family relocated to Lincoln, Nebraska, so the Kiesselbach sisters could attend the University of Nebraska (UN). Caroline died in 1901 and left 160 acres of farmland to each of her children with money to fund their college educations.

Intending to become a farmer, Kiesselbach graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in agriculture from UN in 1907 and 1908 and received his Masters and PhD in agriculture in 1912 and 1918. He married high school friend and UN alumna Hazel Hortense Hyde, on June 30, 1909. They had four children, Theodore J. (1910), Max (1912), Katherine (1922), and Helen (1923). After finishing his degree,Kiesselbach had planned to return to his inherited farmland. He took a job in Lincoln after being told by Hazel's father that farm life would not suit her. Deciding to stay in Lincoln, Kiesselbach accepted a graduate assistant position with E.G. Montgomery, head of the UN Department of Field Crops, on a project making thousands of plant growth measurements for corn experiments. Later, he worked as a field crops instructor and Agricultural Experiment Station assistant (1908), assistant in experimental agronomy (1909), professor of experimental agronomy (1912), and professor of agronomy (1917-1952).

In 1909, he attended the National Corn Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska, where he saw Connecticut scientists G.A. Schull and Edward East lecture on hybrid corn, seen at that time as dangerous. Kiesselbach and E.G. Montgomery initiated work on crossbreeding corn and in 1913, became the first scientists to develop corn hybrids west of Connecticut. After several devastating droughts, Kiesselbach's hybrid became popular in the 1930s, and by 1949, accounted for $42 million of Nebraska's crop income.

Kiesselbach published more than 140 publications on crop research including corn hybrids, alfalfa and wheat breeding, and chemical bindweed control. Plant scientists around the world continue to reference his article, "The Structure and Reproduction of Corn"(1949) published as a Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station Research Bulletin. In 1980, the University of Nebraska Press republished the article as a book and printed another edition in 1999 for its 50th anniversary.

Kiesselbach received the Hoblitzell National Award in Agricultural Sciences in 1951 and Nebraska Crop Improvement Association Agronomy Award in 1952. In addition, he served as a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and held memberships in the Nebraska Corn Improvers Association, Sigma Xi, Gamma Sigma Delta, American Society of Agronomy, Nebraska Academy of Science, and many other organizations. He died on December 27, 1964. The University of Nebraska dedicated the Kiesselbach Crops Research Laboratory in his honor in 1969.


2.25 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Language of Materials


Related Materials

For more information relating to Theodore Kiesselbach’s personal life, see also Kiesselbach Family Papers (MS 0398). There are several articles by or on Kiesselback in the publication Cornhusker Countryman (RG 08-00-02), including "The Evolution of the Agricultural College," vol. 2, no. 4, 1923, Jan., E. Hale Sinnett, "Dr. Theodore A Kiesselbach," vol. 6, no. 8, 1927, Apr., and E. Hale Art Kozelka, "A Man Who Didn't Know What to Do," vol. 10, no. 5, 1931, Feb.

Katie Jones
2018, 2020
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Repository Details

Part of the Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries Repository

Archives & Special Collections
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries
P.O. Box 884100
Lincoln NE 68588-4100 United States