Dairying in Kane County, Illinois : a study of agricultural change
Kolzow, David Roy
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Kane County, the area of this study, is located in northeastern Illinois, less than one hundred miles from Chicago. It is a county of two personalities. Its glacial history has brought about a rolling, poorly drained, northern section best suited for dairying and a level, well-drained, fertile, southern section well-suited for cash-grain farming and feed-lot operations. It was the agricultural activity of dairying, however, that brought fame to Kane County. Since 1950 dairying has been relinquishing its dominant place in the county to cash-grain farming, and it seems that this trend will continue. It is the purpose of this thesis to study the development of dairying in Kane County and bring to light the conditions responsible for the early success in dairying and the present decline of this agricultural activity. This question in itself is of interest, but it is also important to relate this to other similar areas, in particular the urban-rural fringe of metropolitan areas within the "Dairy Belt." Various documents and books of a historical nature, census data, and a number of personal interviews wars employed to accomplish the purpose of this paper. In the early history of farming in Kane County, the emphasis was on wheat. Dairying was incidental and its products were mainly for home consumption. It became evident in the 1860's that the raising of livestock would be more profitable, particularly dairying, since the large urban market of Chicago was just opening up. Soon Kane County was one of the leading dairy regions of the United States. After the fluid milk market was saturated, dairymen turned to the production of condensed milk, cheese and butter. Several large condensed milk plants were built in the 1860's. When the milk needs of this market were satisfied, many cheese factories were built, especially between 1865 and 1880. The quality and value of this cheese eventually became lower due to lower prices in general for cheese. From 1880 to 1900 butter manufacturing dominated dairy production, and Elgin became "the butter capital of the world." Prices quoted on the Elgin Board of Trade were used for butter sales throughout the United States, However, the actual sales of this one board of trade were found to be too minor to be representative of all butter trade and this board ceased operations in 1917. By 1910 the more profitable fluid milk market was again expanding as Chicago grew in population at a tremendous rate. Soon Kane County dairymen produced milk for fluid sales only.