The Turkey Tycoon Barron County

Photo courtesy of Mary Ella Jerome

Appropriately, the story of Wallace Jerome FISC’28, ’41 starts with an egg.

Connections in Barron County

Data Source: University of Wisconsin Service Center

A native of Spooner, Wisconsin, Jerome was interested, from childhood, in eggs. In particular, he liked watching turkey eggs hatch, and between his 14th birthday and the time he completed high school in 1928, he had hatched a flock of 200 turkeys.

Jerome then came to Madison to take the UW’s Farm and Industry Short Course, and after completing it, he became an egg inspector for the state’s Department of Agriculture. That egg interest hatched into an idea: Jerome came to believe that turkey farming could become a full-fledged big business. He returned to college in the late 1930s, and he graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in poultry husbandry. He thought there was a lot of money to be made in turkeys, and he quickly proved it.

Wallace Jerome’s egg interest hatched into an idea: that turkey farming could become a full-fledged big business

At the height of the Great Depression, Jerome purchased an abandoned pea cannery in Barron, Wisconsin, and turned it into a processing plant for turkey meat. After improving turkey farming systems to handle large numbers of birds, he launched Jerome Foods, which later became the Turkey Store and ultimately merged with Hormel Foods to become today’s Jennie-O Turkey Store.

An innovator in marketing, Jerome helped to establish a wide variety of turkey products: steaks, tenderloins, sausages, turkey burgers, turkey ham, and GobbleStix. Known as “Mr. Turkey,” Jerome built his company into a powerhouse that employed more than 2,500 people. Though Jerome died in 2006, the Jennie-O Turkey Store is still one of Barron’s biggest attractions.

Thank you, Barron County for Wallace Jerome, whose agricultural innovations have helped to feed the world.