International Live Stock Exposition attendees—a record-breaking 55,000 of them—seemed to overlook the “packing house stenches” and “fetid air” that hung over the arena in Chicago when two Iowa kids showed the grand champion steer in 1928. Newspapers from coast to coast covered the story. Time Magazine ran a lengthy article in its “Business & Finance” section offering a humorous sketch of the event.
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Clarence Goecke, 12, and his sister, Emma, 17, were in the Windy City to show their prize-winning Hereford named Dick. Clarence had purchased the animal from his dad, Fred, paying $55 for the bull in July 1927. The State Center youth spent the next year pampering Dick with tasty meals of ground corn, cooked barley, molasses and clover hay, according to Time. Clarence curled Dick’s hair with a special comb.
Clarence first showed his Hereford at the Marshall County Fair and then the Iowa State Fair. At the state fair Dick came in third. When someone offered to buy Clarence’s pride and joy for $1 a pound, Fred said, “Yes.” But Clarence said, “No.” He had the International Live Stock exposition in mind for Dick.
In Chicago Dick took several honors including best Hereford yearling and grand prize for best yearling. Someone suggested to Clarence that he enter Dick for grand champion of the show. He agreed but got cold feet when it was time for him to lead his pet into the arena. So big sister, Emma, took over. An Indiana newspaper reported the most exciting part of the day was when the “great body of people” in the arena “stood and cheered” as Emma led Dick to victory.
The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported that traditionally the grand champion at the exposition was auctioned off, butchered at the stockyards and “converted into Christmas steaks” for the new owner. Clarence, aware of this fate for his beloved pet, disappeared for a time, avoiding reporters who wanted to interview the owner of the champ.
Everyone was surprised when department store owner, James Cash (J.C.) Penney stepped up and offered $7 a pound for Dick. It was the highest price ever paid for a champion. Two years before, the winning animal had brought a record $3.60 a pound. Luckily for Dick, Penney saw a future in marketing for the champ. Time reported the entrepreneur planned to use Dick and the Goecke kids’ story as inspiration to young people in small towns across the country (especially in those communities where a J.C. Penney store existed) to get involved in stock breeding.
Dick weighed 1,150 pounds; so Penney’s purchase netted the Goecke’s over $8,000 plus an additional $1,000 of prize money. Clarence shared his winnings with Emma. The Marshalltown J.C. Penney store displayed Dick’s trophy and other special mementoes from the exposition.
According to Time, Clarence had this to say about his special Hereford, “Dick’s so gentle he wouldn’t hurt anybody. But he knew me best, and every time I went near him he tried to lick my face…”
- Ammon, Ralph E. “Show $9,000 Steer,” Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.), Dec. 12, 1928.
- “Business & Finance: Live Stock Show,” Time, Dec. 17, 1928.
- “Corn Crown Won by Hoosier Youth,” Hancock Democrat, (Greenfield, Ind.) Dec. 13, 1928.
- “Iowa Boy Sells Grand Champion Steer at Record Price of $7 Per Pound,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, Dec. 6, 1928.
- Mills, George. “Great Day for Iowa at Livestock Show Recalled,” Des Moines Register, Apr. 6, 1988.