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Hog-Round Marketing, Seed Quality, and Government Policy: Institutional Change in U.S. Cotton Production, 1920–1960


Between 1928 and 1960 U.S. cotton production experienced a revolution with average yields roughly tripling while the quality of the crop increased significantly. This article analyzes the key institutional and scientific developments that facilitated the revolution in biological technologies, pointing to the importance of two government programs—the one-variety community movement and the Smith-Doxey Act—as catalysts for change. The story displays two phenomena germane to the recent literature: an important real-world example of Akerlof's lemons model and a case in which inventors, during an early phase of the product cycle, encouraged consumers to copy and disseminate their intellectual property.We would like to thank Shelby Baker, Dick Bassett, Fred Bourland, J. Jerome Boyd, David L. Carlton, Peter Coclanis, Harry B. Collins, John Constantine, Tom Culp, Early C. Ewing Jr., Deborah K. Fitzgerald, Janet Hudson, Susana Iranzo, Hal Lewis, Gary Libecap, Shelagh Mackay, C. W. Manning, Leslie Maulhardt, William Meredith, Robert Margo, Massimo Morelli, Larry Nelson, Carl Pray, Gene Seigler, Macon Steele, Nancy Virts, Henry Webb, Gavin Wright, and two anonymous referees for their comments and assistance. Julian Alston played an especially important role in shaping our analysis. We also benefited from the comments of the seminar participants at the Triangle Economic History Workshop, the University of Mississippi, Harvard University, the Spring 2002 All-UC Group in Economic History Conference at Scripps College, and the 2003 Meetings of the American Historical Association. Work on this article was facilitated by a fellowship granted by the International Centre for Economic Research (ICER) in Turin, Italy.

Corresponding author
Alan L. Olmstead is Professor of Economics and Director of the Institute of Governmental Affairs at the University of California, Davis, One Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616-8617; and member of the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. E-mail:
Paul W. Rhode is Professor, Department of Economics, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Gardner Hall, CB3305, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3305; and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. E-mail:
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The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
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