This is a rather ordinary and worn looking artifact, isn’t it? Some of you may know that it is a palm corn husking hook used in the days before mechanical corn pickers when farmers would walk through their rows and pull the ears of corn from their husks, free them from their stalks, and throw them into waiting wagons. Being that Nebraska is the Cornhusker state and that most of our population will be spending their Saturdays this fall yelling “Go Huskers!” it can’t come as a great shock that the Nebraska State Historical Society would have a few of these in our collection. This one, however, is a bit more fabulous than it’s worn appearance implies and, in 1933, certainly inspired calls of “Go Husker!”
- Sherman Henriksen, 1933 National Cornhusking Champion. (NSHS 13211)
The cries, of course, were inspired not by the tool itself, but by the man who used it: Sherman Henriksen. Henricksen (pictured above) was a 38 year old farmer from near Eagle and wore it during the 1933 National Cornhusking Championship which was held in November on the Ben Stalp farm near West Point, Nebraska. Henriksen won the contest by shucking 27.62 bushels in 80 minutes. The second place finisher was also a Nebraskan, Harry Brown of Cuming County, and he shucked 25.27 bushels. Like the contestants from other states, Henriksen and Brown had to compete in county and state competitions to qualify for the nationals.
- Sherman Henriksen with former Nebraska Governor Samuel McKelvie and second place finisher Harry Brown. McKelvie has signed the photo: “To Sherman Henriksen–a cornhusker and a man.” At the time of the competition McKelvie was the Editor/Publisher of Nebraska Farmer magazine. (NSHS 13211)
Thirty-eight varieties of corn had been grown on the Stalp farm for the contest and penalties were given for husks left on corn and for ears left in the field. Corn husking contests were extremely popular during this period and this contest seemed to have quite a festive atmosphere with concession and souvenir stands, bands, Omaha Indians in native costume, mounted drill teams, and dance and vocal groups. Race car driver Barney Oldfield drove a tractor at high speeds down a dirt road and airplanes flew overhead. Dignitaries, including Nebraska Governor Charles Bryan, were among the crowd that has been estimated at between 70,000-100,000. Radio coverage of the contest was provided by NBC’s National Farm and Home Hour and movie newsreel crews captured footage.
Henriksen “went pro” after his national title and placed second and third in the national “Husking Kings Sweepstakes” held in Iowa in the later 1930s. National cornhusking championships ended in the early 1940s when mechanical pickers gained prominence in the field and the interest in hand cornhusking waned.
We’re grateful to Henriksen’s family for saving this piece of Cornhusker history and donating it to the Society.
Deb Arenz, Associate Director for Collections