The Chicken of Tomorrow: Bioengineering and Agriculture in Postwar America

Benjamin Davison

In the decades following the Second World War, big business redesigned the food system to better suit the needs of mass-retailing. The emergence of the supermarket as the primary means of food distribution challenged farmers to deliver agricultural products in sufficient quantities to satisfy consumer demand. Rather than simply grow more, farmers, processors, and scientists partnered to engineer crops for greater efficiency and profit. This essay focuses on the poultry industry because chickens saw more intensive bioengineering than any major agricultural product. Thanks to the national Chicken of Tomorrow contest, held in 1950, federal and private poured into poultry research, creating a bird that embodied the full promise of the emerging science of genetics. Eventually, the industry created a chicken that not only fed consumers, but organized poultry production according to the logic of mass-marketing.