Dakota Datebook

The Father of Macaroni Wheat

Monday, May 21, 2012


Durum wheat is used for making macaroni and other pastas, and North Dakota produces two-thirds of the durum grown in the U.S.A. Charles Hitchcock, who became known in the history of North Dakota as the “Father of durum or macaroni wheat,” died on this dated in 1909.

Hitchcock had a farm at Buttzville, near Lisbon, in the 1880s. In the summer of 1882, a man named Robert Christian came from Canada to Buttzville, in Ransom County, and helped Charles Hitchcock in haymaking. Mr. Christian brought a 25-pound sack of a fine-looking variety of spring wheat that he called “rice wheat.”

Mr. Christian was “called home suddenly by the illness of his wife” and he “gave the sack of wheat to Mr. Hitchcock, who laid it away” in a “nook in the claim shanty, where it was forgotten” for several years.

In the spring of 1885, Mrs. Hitchcock did some spring cleaning and “found the remains of the sack of ‘rice wheat.” Unfortunately “mice had destroyed all but about a small tea-cup full.” Mr. Hitchcock was “so struck by the large size of the kernels that he planted what was left in his garden.” It grew – and at harvest, Hitchcock “shelled it out with his hands and saved about two quarts” of wheat kernels.

“In 1886 he sowed the two quarts and harvested one and a half bushels. In 1887 he sowed” the one-and-one-half bushels “and got 40 bushels. The yield increased year by year as Mr. Hitchcock continued to grow it and in 1891 he threshed sixteen-hundred bushels from 40 acres.” Charles Hitchcock shared some of the seed with his neighbor Frank B. Strong and with others in Ransom County.

“It was largely” from the original tea-cup full of wheat and from the wheat that “Mr. Hitchcock grew subsequently that the great durum wheat industry in North Dakota had its start.”

The story of how durum came to be grown in Ransom County was recorded for posterity in 1907 by A. H. Laughlin who had been the North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture from 1895 to 1897. Laughlin wrote the story of the “Father of Macaroni Wheat” and gave it to the Fargo Forum for preservation. His efforts paid off, for several accounts of the history of agriculture in North Dakota note that durum wheat “was first grown in the U.S.” in Ransom County in the early 1880s. From small seeds, great ventures grow.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

SOURCES: “Father of Durum Wheat is Dead,” Fargo Forum, May 21, 1909, p. 7.

“Macaroni Wheat and Its Introduction Here,” Fargo Forum, January 2, 1907, p. 9.

Clement Lounsberry, “A.H. Laughlin, Lisbon,” Record; or North Dakota Illustrated, vol. 4, 1898, p. 280.

David Boehm, Tracy Sayler, “Durum Wheat,” Prairie Grains Magazine, Number 46, June 2002, www.smallgrains.org/springw/june02/rich/rich.htm, accessed on April 14, 2012.

N.D. Parks and Recreation Department, “Fort Ransom State Park,”www.parkrec.nd.gov/parks/frsp/history.html, accessed on April 14, 2012.

“Macaroni Is a Dry Climate Wheat,” Fargo Forum, January 16, 1906, p. 8.

“Macaroni Wheat,” Grand Forks Herald, March 18, 1902.

“A.H. Laughlin, Lisbon Pioneer Dead,” Grand Forks Herald, February 6, 1914.


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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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