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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


A plant geneticist, John Beardsley Sieglinger earned fame for hybridizing grain sorghums for ease of mechanical harvesting. Son of C. G. and Mary Sieglinger, John Sieglinger was born on August 25, 1893, near Newton, Kansas but grew up in Kiowa County, Oklahoma, near Lone Wolf. After graduating from Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State University, OSU) in 1913 with a major in agronomy, he returned to Kiowa County to farm. An unrelenting drought forced him to reassess his career choice, and he enrolled in graduate school at Kansas State University. He earned a master's degree in 1915 with a thesis entitled "Effect of Sorghum on Soil." He proceeded to devote his entire career to researching, teaching, and writing about grain sorghum.

In 1915 Sieglinger accepted a position with the USDA Southern Plains Research Station in Woodward. A specialist in plant genetics, he was well qualified to develop improved varieties of sorghum, including broomcorn, which could withstand the arid conditions on the Great Plains. Relatively new to the United States, sorghum was best known for two varieties, 'Dwarf Yellow' milo in the Southwest, and 'Blackhull' kafir in the central and eastern Great Plains. Sieglinger's mandate was to develop a shorter plant to accommodate combine harvesting.

By 1922 Sieglinger was conducting hybridization experiments with sixty-eight varieties of sorghum from Africa and Asia. He was able to develop two, 'Wheatland', released in 1931, and 'Redlan', released in 1948, that were more amenable to mechanized harvesting and less labor intensive. With these, farmers reaped substantial profits. 'Wheatland' became the basic stock for improved varieties of 'Dwarf Yellow' milo, including 'Martin' in Texas and 'Westland' in Kansas. From 'Dwarf Yellow' and 'Early White' he developed 'Sooner', which was earlier to mature and more drought resistant. Survivors of the Dirty Thirties in southwestern Kansas claimed that in the summer of 1936 'Sooner' was the only grain they harvested.

After twenty-six years with the USDA, Sieglinger in 1941 joined the Department of Agronomy at Oklahoma A&M (OSU). During his tenure he built a reputation as one of the world's top dozen researchers in his field. One contemporary noted, "His work serves as a beacon to others who struggle along the way." Upon retiring from OSU in 1963, he was cited as a graduate who had made significant contributions to the fields of science, economics, business, and politics. In 1964 he became a Fellow in the American Society of Agronomy. A pioneer in developing drought-resistant and mechanically harvestable sorghum hybrids, and often called "the Burbank of Oklahoma sorghums," John B. Sieglinger died on December 27, 1977.

Michael J. Hightower


Craig Chappell, A History of Research at Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, Okla.: Oklahoma State University, 1991).

Donald Edward Green, A History of the Oklahoma State University Division of Agriculture (Stillwater, Okla.: Oklahoma State University, 1990).

John W. Hamilton, "The 'Burbank' of the Sorghums," Oklahoma A&M College Magazine 19 (October 1947).

A. Bruce Maunder, "John B. Sieglinger, Father of Combine Milo (1893–1977)," Global Rangelands, https://globalrangelands.org/dlio/61672, accessed 10 February 2016.

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Michael J. Hightower, “Sieglinger, John Beardsley,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=SI010.

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