MA 53




3.78 linear feet (9 document cases)


Edgar Sharp McFadden (1891-1956) South Dakotan and graduate of South Dakota State University who developed rust resistant varieties of wheat that lead to saving the lives of millions of people from starvation. He was in the United States Army during World War I and spent most of his career working for the United States Department of Agriculture and the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. The collection consists of materials relating to his work with research and production of small grains such as wheat, oats, and flax, and in particular the development of Hope Wheat. In addition, the collection contains biographical information about McFadden and his writings and speeches.

Historical Note

Edgar Sharp McFadden was born to James Edgar and Beatrice (Stocking) McFadden on February 3, 1891 in Day County, South Dakota. James E. McFadden came to South Dakota in 1882 to homestead and built a granary-dwelling house combination on his land.

In 1903, James E. McFadden was severely injured when he was gored by a bull. This put the burden of the 1904 spring planting onto Edgar McFadden when he was only thirteen years old. In addition to the regular planting of wheat that year, Edgar S. McFadden planted a small plot with seeds he had selected in 1903 from a few completely beardless wheat plants. He wanted to see if he could develop better grain. McFadden’s first crop, including the small plot, was ruined by black stem rust.

In the winter of 1908-1909, the McFadden’s left South Dakota and moved to the West Pecos area in Texas where Edgar went into the cattle ranching business in partnership with his father. Over the next three summers, Edgar S. McFadden followed the wheat harvest from Texas to their homestead in South Dakota, and then north and east into the Red River Valley in North Dakota and Minnesota. At this time, he observed that wheat rust started in the south and moved north.

In 1911, Edgar S. McFadden began taking courses in the School of Agriculture at South Dakota State College (SDSC), completing the program in 1914. He began as a freshman at SDSC in the fall of the same year. In 1916, agronomy professor Manley Champlin encouraged McFadden to plant wheat in a small plot of land behind the boarding house where he lived as a student in Brookings. He hoped to transfer the disease resistance of Yaroslav emmer to Marquis, a common bread wheat. While a student at SDSC, McFadden also worked as an assistant in the SDSC agronomy laboratory and in the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station test plots (1913-1917). He received his Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture from SDSC on March 1, 1918.

Following his graduation, McFadden went to work for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a field assistant at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Highmore, South Dakota where he continued his research to develop rust-resistant wheat. During World War I, McFadden joined the United States Army and served from May 25, 1918 to February 25, 1919. Following his military service, he returned to work for the USDA at the Highmore Experiment Station. After completing cereal experiments for the SDSC agronomy department in June 1920, he returned to his farm near Webster in Day County, South Dakota.

He continued his wheat breeding experiments on the land that his parents had homesteaded, and he farmed for a living from September 1, 1920 to February 28, 1929. After his crops were destroyed by drought in 1921, hailed out in 1922, and rusted out in 1923, he mortgaged the farm in order to continue working on his wheat breeding research. During this time McFadden developed the Hope and H44 varieties of rust-resistant wheat.

McFadden returned to work for the USDA on March 1, 1929 as an Associate Agronomist stationed in Redfield, South Dakota and also worked for the USDA at University Farm in St. Paul, Minnesota. He held that position until 1935, when he accepted a position with the USDA and the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. In Texas, McFadden continued his research with wheat and other small grains, including oats, barely, and flax.

Edgar S. McFadden is best known for his work developing Hope wheat which is the parent of numerous disease-resistant varieties. He is credited with saving at least 25 million people from starvation, and an estimated $400 million during World War II.

During his career, McFadden was awarded numerous honors and accolades including an honorary doctor of science degree from South Dakota State College (1950), the Reader’s Digest award for meritorious contributions to public welfare (1946), the American Agricultural Editors’ Award for outstanding service to American agriculture and country life (1947), and the Progressive Farmer man-of-the-year award (1950). He also received the USDA distinguished service award (1949), a citation of merit from the Texas Chemurgic Council (1947), and honored by the American Agricultural Education Association (1945) for outstanding service. Prior to his death, McFadden received the prestigious John Scott Legacy Medal and Premium (1955). In 1966, a granite memorial to McFadden was erected in Webster, South Dakota.

In 1918, McFadden married Mabel Blakeslee. They had two daughters, Carol and Phyllis, and a son, James.

Edgar S. McFadden passed away at his home in College Station, Texas on January 5, 1956.

Content Notes

Awards, Honors, and Memberships

This series contains information on E.S. McFadden’s memberships to various professional and honorary societies including the American Genetic Association and Sigma Xi. Materials regarding the numerous awards and honors presented to McFadden are also part of this series.

Biographical Materials

This series consist of biographies, newspaper clippings, family information, photographs, and obituaries and memorials. There is also an interview with McFadden during the Texas State Fair and material regarding the movie Waves of Green about McFadden and his work. In addition, documents relating to McFadden’s service in the United States Army during World War I can be found in this series.

Collected Material Relating to McFadden's Work

This series includes articles and other documents written about McFadden’s research regarding plant pathology of small grain crops in particular his work with wheat.


The correspondence series contains letters with colleagues and on various topics including polio and his objection to the United States becoming involved in World War II.

Hope Wheat and Other Varieties

This series consists of documents relating to McFadden’s development and sale of wheat varieties between 1925 and 1933. Testimonials are included in the series are regarding the wheat and registration certificates for Hope Wheat and Webster Wheat.

McFadden's Writings and Speeches

This series includes various articles and speeches McFadden had done during his career. Of interest is his essay entitled My Aim in Coming to College written in 1914, his article regarding Wheat-Rye Hybrids in the Journal of Heredity (1917), the Genome Approach in Radical Wheat Breeding published in the Journal of the American Society of Agronomy (1947), and an undated essay labeled Hope Wheat: the Boyhood Dream of Disease Resistant Wheat. Other items in this series include speeches and articles regarding wheat and wheat breeding, development and production of small grains such as flax and oats, and heredity.


The research series consists of McFadden’s field notebooks from 1916 through 1951, spanning his career in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Texas. The notebooks detail his work not only with varieties of wheat, but also oats, barley, and flax.

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South Dakota State University Archives and Special Collections, Hilton M. Briggs Library, Brookings, South Dakota.


Copyright restrictions apply in different ways to different materials. Many of the documents and other historical materials in the Archives are in the public domain and may be reproduced and used in any way. There are other materials in the Archive carrying a copyright interest and must be used according to the provisions of Title 17 of the U.S. Code. The Archive issues a warning concerning copyright restrictions to every researcher who requests copies of documents. Although the copyright law is under constant redefinition in the courts, it is ultimately the responsibility of the researcher to properly use copyrighted material.