Year of Publication

2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Ronald D. Eller

Abstract

Called “The Pride of the Bluegrass,” Elmendorf Farm changed the style and substance of commercial pedigree breeding in early twentieth-century America. Between 1897 and 1914, James B. Haggin readily transformed the Kentucky farm first as a nationally preeminent horse stud, famous for its bloodlines and scales, and second as a premier dairy operation, exceptional for its sanitation, science, and size. Here rested the large-scale production of the world’s fanciest Thoroughbreds and finest milk. At the same time, Haggin’s farm reflected a lifestyle that has come to be celebrated and cherished as the ideal Kentucky landscape. A factory-style plant of large scales, of specialization, and vertical integration was disguised with the lavish iconography of portico mansions, rolling lawns, and white-planed fences, behind which million-dollar animals grazed on lush bluegrass. But a crucial, and significant, characteristic of this farm was the wage laborers who performed the back-breaking work. The labor and lives of the farm’s black workers, in particular, shows how Elmendorf helped reinforce a system of labor relations in central Kentucky, one peculiar to horse business and one segmented by race.

Ultimately, this study of Elmendorf Farm shows the unforgettable imprint of Haggin’s complex personality, as well as his modern philosophies of business, but it also demonstrates conclusively the fallacy of an acquisitive nature and aggressive impulses in commercial animal breeding. As a powerful financier in the late nineteenth-century, Haggin’s perpetual objective was ever “large economies of scale.” Haggin made and lost fortunes by creating great industrial enterprises, and his Bluegrass stud proved no different—even if his individual actions meant defying the norm and jeopardizing entire industries. This best explains why the world’s greatest breeding and milking farm, in many ways, failed. When Haggin applied a dual logic of industrial and aristocratic expansion to a Kentucky breeding farm, the pedigree industry, however fragile and vulnerable, was pushed to extremes and instability of both horse and milk industries resulted. Those famed marble columns, the remaining evidence of Elmendorf Farm, now stands in a lush Bluegrass field, representing one of the most spectacular failures in modern agricultural history.

Included in

History Commons

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