Foster Dwight Coburn, secretary of the Kansas state board of agriculture, and probably the most widely known citizen of the state, was born in Jefferson county, Wisconsin, May 7, 1846, a son of Ephraim W. and Mary Jane (Mulks) Coburn. He was reared on a farm until the age of thirteen years; received his elementary education in the country schools; served during the latter years of the great Civil war in two Illinois regimentsfirst as corporal in Company F, One Hundred and Thirty-fifth infantry, and subsequently as private and sergeant-major of the Sixty-second veteran infantry. In 1867 he came to Kansas and located in Franklin county, where he worked as a farm laborer, taught school, and later became a farmer and breeder of improved live stock on his own account. In July, 1880, while farming in Franklin county, Mr. Coburn was invited to a position in the office of the state board of agriculture by its secretary, Joseph K. Hudson. He accepted, which act proved the beginning of his subsequent useful career in promoting the agricultural interests of Kansas. Shortly after he entered the office, Mr. Hudson resigned the office of secretary and Mr. Coburn was unanimously elected to fill the vacancy, remaining as secretary until Jan. 11, 1882. For several years from that time he was editor of the Live Stock Indicator, published at Kansas City, Mo., and was also president of the Indicator Publishing Company. On Jan. 12, 1894, he was, without solicitation, again elected secretary of the state board of agriculture and has held the position continuously since that date, having been reëlected without opposition and by acclamation for nine consecutive biennial terms. At the time he came to the office in 1894 the duties of the position were largely of a clerical nature, but, having been actively engaged in farming for many years, the mere collection and publication of statistics did not satisfy him. He therefore put new ideas into ithe office by the gathering and distribution of such information as would be of practical benefit to the farmers of the state in their daily work. The result has been that the Kansas agricultural department has become one of the important branches of the state government, and has perhaps attracted more attention and respect throughout the country than that of any other state. His reports have been widely distributed and are regared[sic] as authority on many subjects relating to agriculture, and his books, "Swine Husbandry" and "Swin[sic] in America," are considered the most valuable publications on the subject of swine raising. Since he became secretary he has devoted much attention to the subject of alfalfa culture, being one of the first officials in the United States to take an interest in the alfalfa plant and promote its more general growing. Several years ago he wrote a work entitled "Alfalfa," and still later "The Book of Alfalfa," the latter being unquestionably the best treatise on alfalfa that has found its way into print. Among other books written by Mr. Coburn may be mentioned "The Helpful Hen," devoted to the poultry interests; "Corn and Sorghums;" "Railroads and Agriculture," a discussion of the transportation question; several works on different breeds of cattle; "Pork Production;" "Wheat Growing;" "Forage and Fodders;" "The Horse Useful;" "Modern Dairying;" "Profitable Poultry;" "The Modern Sheep," as well as number of others on kindred subjects.
Mr. Coburn was sole judge of swine at the New Orleans exposition in 1884; was one of the judges of swine at the Chicago exposition in 1893; was unanimously elected president of the first national corn congress at Chicago in 1898; has served several terms as president and vice-president of the board of regents of the Kansas State Agricultural College; was chief of the department of live stock at the Louisiana Purchase exposition at St. Louis in 1904; served as treasurer of the fund raised by the people of Kansas for the famine sufferers of India; was strongly recommended to President McKinley by state legislatures, stock breeders' associations, etc., in the West for secretary of agriculture in the cabinet; was elected president of the Kansas Semi-centennial Exposition Association, but declined to serve; served four terms as president of the State Temperance Union; was treasurer of the same organization for four years, and was chairman of the executive committee during the ten years the union was most active in its work; was chairman ex-officio of the Kansas state dairy commission during the whole period of its existence in 1907-08; twice served as chairman of committees to investigate the Kansas penitentiary; has been chairman ex-officio of the Kansas state entomological commission since it was established in 1909, and has been honored in various other ways in connection with agricultural, industrial and educational affairs.
Politically Mr. Coburn is an unflinching Republican, but in 1898, after a campaign to secure his nomination as governor was well under way, he delivered an address before the state editorial association at Kansas City, in which he positively declined to be a candidate. Notwithstanding this, he received over eighty votes in the convention. Again when Senator Joseph R. Burton resigned his seat in the United States senate, Mr. Coburn was tendered the appointment by Governor Hoch, but declined it, with the declaration that he preferred his agricultural work in Kansas to any other, anywhere, within the gift of the people. Mr. Coburn is a director and vice-president of the Prudential Trust Company; a director of the Prudential State Bank, and vice-president and a director of the Capitol Building and Loan Association, all of Topeka. He is an honorary life member of the Kansas State Horticultural Society, and an honorary member of the Kansas State Editorial Association, and has several times been unanimously eIected a director of the Kansas State Historical Society. In June, 1909, he was honored with the degree of A. M. from Baker University, and the following November he received the degree of LL. D. from the Kansas State Agricultural College.
In 1869 Mr. Coburn married Miss Lou Jenkins, and they have two daughtersMrs. Frank Davis Tomson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Mrs. Theodore Jessup of Chicago, Ill.and a son, Dr. Clay E. Coburn of Kansas City, Kan.Pages 22-24 from volume III, part 1 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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