Fred Hatch’s American Silo

Where did the American silo originate? It may have been in Spring Grove, Ill.

Fred Hatch was fresh out of the Illinois Industrial University at Champaign (now the University of Illinois) when he returned to his father’s dairy farm in Spring Grove in 1873. A member of the university’s second graduating class, he was eager to demonstrate what he’d learned at college.

At that time there were few textbooks on agriculture. Professor Willard Flagg Bliss (the university’s only faculty member in the agriculture department), improvised by translating foreign papers and bulletins on relevant topics. From these, Fred learned of the formation of silage from sugar beet pulp and maize.

In the fall of 1873, Fred’s father, Lewis Hatch, agreed – after much persuasion – to build a structure inside the barn to hold silage. He and Fred dug a 10×16 rectangular hole, eight feet deep, and lined it with rocks and mortar, just as basement walls were constructed in that day. They extended the walls above ground 16 feet, constructing them of two thickness of flooring boards with a layer of tar paper sandwiched between them. That fall, they loaded the new silo with green corn fodder. Almost immediately, their cows stayed fatter and gave more milk than they ever had before.

In 1876, the Hatches built two more silos, again inside the barn. They were identical to the original one, except that their foundations were made of concrete instead of loose stone. Those three silos were used until 1919, when the farm changed hands, and the barn and silos were all demolished. Nearby, however, in the Spring Grove park, remains a permanent marker honoring Fred Hatch, builder of America’s first upright silo. FC

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