Commemorating the origins of soybeans in Illinois

ALTON, Ill. – The soybean – an incredible, edible bean. And an integral part of agriculture in Illinois. The Land of Lincoln is the number one soybean-producing state.

“When did the soybean come to Illinois?” said Theodore Hymowitz, Ph.D., emeritus professor of plant genetics, University of Illinois. “Nobody knew. Nobody knew when, who, how; it was blank.”

Theodore Hymowitz first asked the question in 1967. But the legend of the first legume in Illinois dates to the 19th century. Then the soybean had another name when it arrived in Illinois in 1851 – “Japanese peas.”

“I knew it was Alton, but where in Alton?” Hymowitz said.

Over time, scientists have turned soybeans into milk and biodiesel fuel, and the trail of the first soybean in Illinois ran into limitations when trying to determine the exact date or place. That’s when the Lewis and Clark Reid Memorial Library researchers went to work

“We wanted to make sure it was historically accurate, that we had documentation to prove all the facts,” said Greg Cash, assistant director at Reid Memorial Library, Lewis and Clark Community College. “So we were very gratified when the state historical society approved the marker and told us it was one of the best ones they had ever approved.”

“A crop has to find a niche to be successful,” Hymowitz said. “Many crops are tested all over the country and most of them fail and then over time some of them become successful and you should know the history of this.”

There’s more to the first soybean story; the rest is history, as they say. But you can see it for yourself and read all about it on the new plaque at 417 Prospect Street in Alton, Illinois.

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