The American poultry industry finally has its own museum, and it’s one worth crowing about. On May 8, 2009, the National Poultry Museum was dedicated at the National Agricultural Center & Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kan.
The event capped a 15-year fundraising drive led by poultry expert Loyl Stromberg, Pine River, Minn., who donated many of the artifacts on display. Donors such as McMurray Hatchery, MCM Poultry Farm, National Pet Inc., the United Egg Assn., United Egg Producers, Nebraska Poultry Industries Inc., and many individuals donated funds to help open an initial poultry museum at the Ag Hall of Fame’s Farm Town USA in 1994 and the new museum this year.
“Our challenge was to develop a museum that not only contains artifacts, but also one that tells the story of the American poultry industry over the last two centuries,” says Museum Director Tim Daugherty. “Our curator, Kate Alexander, did an immense amount of research to create an exhibit that would help educate hundreds of school children who visit our center, as well as appeal to poultry professionals.”
Inside the building, rooms filled with well-planned and informative exhibits trace the history of poultry production from the early Egyptians through the development of today’s vertically integrated broiler industry. Everywhere you look, you’ll find color photographs of nearly every breed of chicken, turkey, duck and goose raised on American farms from the 1800s through the present day, along with poultry statues and figurines made of porcelain, pottery, plaster, metal and wood.
Displays tracking the development of mechanical incubators and brooders include a large-capacity Jamesway incubator and a kerosene-heated National Ideal Premier hover that was still wrapped in 1943 newspapers in its original shipping crate when the museum staff assembled it for display. Although the first patent on a mechanical incubator was issued in 1843, commercial hatcheries relied on dozens of small, 300-egg incubators until 1896, when inventor Charles Cyphers built the first large-scale hatchery capable of hatching 20,000 eggs. The Cyphers Incubator Co. also introduced the first lamp-heated, multi-level brooding house large enough to accommodate up to 400 chicks.
One display is dedicated to the evolution of poultry housing, another to the art of sexing baby chicks (in the 1930s, specially trained chick sexers from Japan were brought to the U.S. to work for large hatcheries). Exhibits detailing the evolution of poultry disease control and nutrition call attention to the discoveries that adding vitamins A, B and D (along with iodine, potassium, magnesium and calcium) to poultry feed could reduce disease and boost production. Throughout the museum are displays of vintage poultry feeders, as well as crockery and metal water fountains used by poultry producers in the 1800s and early 1900s.
A booming business
The museum identifies Joseph Wilson, Stockton, N.J., as the first to turn raising chicks into a business in 1887. By 1918 there were 250 commercial hatcheries in the U.S., and as many as 10,000 just 10 years later. In 1892, the first long-distance shipment of baby chicks was made via rail from New Jersey to a customer in Chicago.
Soon, other breeders were shipping chicks by railway express to destinations around the U.S. and Canada, although an unacceptable number of chicks died in transit. In 1917, the International Baby Chick Assn. appealed to the U.S. Postal Service to accept live poultry for shipment by parcel post, and before long, millions of live chicks were being mailed to farm families in virtually every state in the union.
An informative display detailing development of the egg industry explains how standards and grades for eggs were introduced in 1925, and how the egg industry evolved from farm families earning cash by selling eggs in town to the development of modern egg-producing companies. Inside the museum are exhibits of poultry nests, egg baskets, egg scales, and wooden and cardboard egg crates.
What’s the packaging from a 1950s Swanson’s TV dinner doing in the National Poultry Museum? In 1953, Swanson & Sons introduced the first TV dinner, featuring a typical Thanksgiving meal of turkey, cornbread dressing, frozen peas and sweet potatoes, and within a year had sold 10 million of the pre-packaged meals. That, along with the first Kentucky Fried Chicken and Church’s Chicken outlets in 1952, signaled the start of the convenience food and fast food industries that would market prepared chicken to tens of millions of American consumers.
Another display recognizes John Tyson and Frank Perdue for their roles in introducing branded, prepared chickens and chicken parts to consumers. Perdue is perhaps best known for the 1970s television commercials in which he promoted Perdue Chicken. John Tyson, who started producing broilers in Arkansas in the 1940s, first began marketing retail-ready broilers under the Tyson Foods label in 1960. Today, Tyson Foods is the world’s largest producer and marketer of chicken, along with beef and pork.
You’ll find more displays of poultry equipment from the 1800s and 1900s in the Hatchery building in the center’s Farm Town USA, which also features a vintage blacksmith shop, a railroad depot, a one-room schoolhouse, church and farm home. FC
Read more about Loyl Stromberg: “Starting from Scratch.”
Read more about poultry production in the early 20th century and today: “Evolution of an Industry.”