One Logo, Two Interpretations

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The logotype above is one of the most magnificent, perverse, and undeniably American things I’ve seen in my entire career. I love it. Like dirty love it. I have eight pieces of the company’s schwag around the studio (that I know of), including an old rusted-out weather vane a friend sent me.

Dekalb is a quintessentially midwestern company I discovered when I first moved to Illinois about fifteen years ago. On its surface, it’s a homey folksy affair, with thousands of Illinois teens detassling corn in their farms as summer work. Farmers downstate know their logo as a marker of a company that’s been helping them grow better corn for generations. A few years back, I called the company’s HQ (in Dekalb, IL, naturally) to ask for a copy of the company’s history. Just one of my weird random research sprees. The phone was answered by an actual person, the head of press relations, who was very kind, albeit a little confused why I cared. After i explained I was simply curious, they sent me a package containing a knit tombaggan with the logotype on it (!!), a white t-shirt (whose sleeves I promptly removed for that down-home aw-shucks feeling you can only get from a pair of old boots, a grubby t-shirt, and a pair of ancient 501’s), and a hand-xeroxed copy of their company history, with a very sweet letter. It was bizarre. Companies don’t act like that!

Dekalb’s celebrating their hundredth anniversary this year. The logo is awe-inspiring in its freakishness and its naive, homespun Americanness. The thing I love most is that it’s more a framework than a logo. There are countless variations on the forms (ear of corn, wings, DEKALB, done!) dating back a century, and I find versions I’ve not seen, homemade ones, in second-hand and eBay stores all the time. They’re a bona-fide throwabck to the middle of the twentieth century when a huge company could be thought of as helpful to the community.

It’s also connected to our freaky, over-complexified, over-technologized, earth-boiling present. Dekalb’s full name is Dekalb Genetics; they’re a subsidiary of Monsanto (a recent acquisition). Their chief business is developing new types of vegetable seeds to grow heartier plants with tastier and more bountiful yields. This includes, obviously, a lot of corn—which is now cross-pollinating with natural species, to unknown environmental effects.