Henry A. Wallace, son of Henry Cantwell Wallace, was born on October 7, 1888, at a farm near Orient, Adair County, Iowa. Wallace attended Iowa State College at Ames where he was a brother in the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. At Iowa State he became friends with George Washington Carver, spending time together collecting botanical specimens. He graduated in 1910 with a degree in animal husbandry.
Henry Wallace worked on the editorial staff of the family-owned paper Wallaces' Farmer in Des Moines, Iowa, from 1910 to 1924 and edited the publication from 1924 to 1929. He experimented with breeding high-yielding hybrid corn, and authored many publications on agriculture. In 1915 he devised the first corn-hog ratio charts indicating the probable course of markets. Wallace was also a self-taught "practicing statistician", co-authoring an influential article with George W. Snedecor on computational methods for correlations and regressions and publishing sophisticated statistical studies in the pages of Wallaces’ Farmer. Snedecor eventually invited Wallace to teach a graduate course on least squares.
With an inheritance of a few thousand dollars that had been left to his wife, the former Ilo Browne, whom he married in 1914, Wallace founded the Hi-Bred Corn Company in 1926, which later became Pioneer Hi-Bred, a major agriculture corporation, acquired in 1999 by the Dupont Corporation for approximately $10 billion.
Wallace was raised as a Presbyterian, but left that denomination early in life. He spent most of his early life exploring other religious faiths and traditions. For many years, he had been closely associated with famous Russian artist and writer Nicholas Roerich. According to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "Wallace's search for inner light took him to strange prophets.... It was in this search that he encountered Nicholas Roerich, a Russian emigre, painter, theosophist. Wallace did Roerich a number of favors, including sending him on an expedition to Central Asia presumably to collect drought-resistant grasses.
Although previously a Republican, Wallace supported Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1932 presidential campaign. In 1933 Roosevelt appointed Wallace as his Secretary of Agriculture. Henry Wallace was a successful administrator and was the architect of the Agricultural Adjustment Act. He was popular with farmers. As Frances Perkins pointed out: "Wallace was very able, clear-thinking, high-minded, a man of patriotism and nobility of character. Her had a following among farmers. He was one of the few people with an agricultural background who had begun to make himself comprehensible to the industrial working people of the country."
In 1940 Roosevelt picked Wallace as his vice president and his popularity in the farm states contributed to the Democratic Party winning the election. During the Second World War Wallace headed the powerful Board of Economic Warfare. In 1943 he clashed with Winston Churchill about his views on the post-war world: "I said bluntly that I thought the notion of Anglo-Saxon superiority, inherent in Churchill's approach, would be offensive to many of the nations of the world as well as to a number of people in the United States. Churchill had had quite a bit of whiskey, which, however, did not affect the clarity of his thinking process but did perhaps increase his frankness. He said why be apologetic about Anglo-Saxon superiority, that we were superior, that we had the common heritage which had been worked out over the centuries in England and had been perfected by our constitution. He himself was half American, he felt that he was called on as a result to serve the function of uniting the two great Anglo-Saxon civilizations in order to confer the benefit of freedom on the rest of the world."
Henry Wallace's left-wing views made him increasingly unpopular in the Democratic Party and Roosevelt came under pressure to drop him as his vice-president in 1944. Roosevelt was unwilling to protect Wallace and Harry S. Truman got the nomination. However, Roosevelt continued to value Wallace's abilities and when he was re-elected he appointed him as his Secretary of Commerce.
Henry Wallace, who was Secretary of Commerce after the war, favored co-operation with the Soviet Union. In private he disagreed with Harry S. Truman about what he considered to be an aggressive foreign policy. Wallace went public about his fears at a meeting in New York in September, 1946. After complaints from James F. Byrnes, Secretary of State, and James Forrestal, Secretary of Defense, Truman sacked Wallace as Secretary of Commerce.
Wallace was editor of the New Republic (1946-48) and helped to launch the new Progressive Party. In 1948 Wallace became the new party's candidate in the presidential election. His program included new civil rights legislation that would give equal opportunities for black Americans in voting, employment and education, repeal of the Taft-Hartley Bill and increased spending on welfare, education, and public works. Wallace's foreign policy program was based on opposition to the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. In the presidential election Wallace polled over 1,157,172 votes but was beaten by Harry Truman (24,105,812) and Thomas Dewey (21,970,065). This defeat marked Wallace's retirement from politics.