Martin and His Son, Jacob Christian, Each a Secretary of Agriculture in Kansas
“One of my prized possessions is a group picture of three young men. Underneath is inscribed ‘The Second Graduating Class of Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois–1861.’ One of these young men was my grandfather, Martin M. Mohler. Martin was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on March 20, 1830. The founder of the Mohlers in this country was Ludwig Mohler, who come to America from Switzerland in August 1730, settling in Pennsylvania.
Martin moved with his parents to Lewistown, Pennsylvania, in 1840 and began teaching school at age seventeen. After six years he entered the Mount Morris Rock River Seminary for a two-year course of instruction.
He then attended Northwestern University, after which he then returned to Pennsylvania and engaged in teaching at Lewistown High School. On May 15, 1862, he married Lucinda C. Hoover and the couple had five children. In 1864 he was appointed Mifflin County Superintendent of Schools to fill a vacancy. He was reelected to two more terms before stepping down in 1869. That same year he bought and assumed charge of the Kishacoquilla Seminary until 1871, when failing health induced him to move to Kansas.
Mr. Mohler was interested in politics. A letter of his reports ‘I attended the National Convention at Chicago, which nominated Abraham Lincoln for President and had the honor of shaking his hand at a reception held in Evanston.’ In June 1871 Mr. Mohler, his wife, and their two-year old daughter, Margaret (my mother) came to Kansas, first stopping in Lawrence, then upon hearing of the Pennsylvania Colony’s settlement in Osborne County, moved west and settled on a half-section homestead in Corinth Township, Osborne County, Kansas. He improved his land, planting trees, flowers, crops, and surrounding it with hedges. I shall never forget the stories my grandmother told me about life on a farm in the 1870s. One day an Indian walked into her home, stuck his hand into a bowl of what he thought was sugar, took a big mouthful, spit out the salt and tramped out muttering ‘Bad, bad squaw.’ Another time my grandfather took his daughter, Margaret, to see the Indians dancing around the campfire. Suddenly one Indian began chasing her. Her father called to her to drop her little red shawl. She did–this is what the Indian wanted. After this, my mother would always hide under the bed when Indians came to her house, because ‘I wanted to keep my long, black hair.’
Mohler continued to farm and served as County Treasurer of Osborne County for two terms, from 1878 to l881. Also during this time, four more children were born: Laura, Jacob, Frank, and Reuben. All the children received their early education in District 32, Fairview School, a one-room school built on the corner of the Mohler farm.
Martin Mohler was described as a successful farmer with progressive ideas. In 1877 he joined the State Agricultural Society, which was later taken under the support of the state. In 1888 he was chosen to be Secretary of the State Board of Agriculture of Kansas, the first from the western half of the state. The family moved to a farm southwest of Topeka, Kansas, but later moved to 1611 Mulvane in the College Hill District. Margaret (Mrs. W. A. Neiswanger) lived next door. Laura soon married and moved to Califomia but Jacob and Frank attended Washburn University. At graduation Frank received a Rhodes Scholarship and studied at OxfordUniversity in England. Later he was in China for years with the Y.M.C.A. Jacob played on the football, basketball, and tennis teams at Washburn.
During Mr. Mohler’s regime, he felt the methods of Kansas farming required many changes, so he applied himself to the study of soils, seeds, and seasons and suggested improved methods. The Sixth Biennial Report of the Kansas Board of Agriculture, under Martin Mohler’s direction, was awarded a medal and diploma at the Paris Exposition in 1889 as the best of its kind in the world.
Martin Mohler was a Presbyterian, a Mason, and a member of the Kansas State Historical Society, and the Sons and Daughters of Justice fraternal society. He retired from his position as Agriculture Secretary in 1894 and passed away March 20, 1903, in Topeka, and was buried in the TopekaCemetery.
Jacob Christian Mohler, son of Martin, was born April 7, 1875, on the family homestead in Corinth Township. He began working for his father’s successor, F. D. Coburn, in 1892 while attending Washburn. In 1901 he was promoted to assistant secretary, and when Mr. Coburn retired in 1914, Jacob, always referred to as ‘Jake,’ became the second Mohler to be Secretary of the State Board of Agriculture of Kansas. It was during Jacob’s early years that the phrase ‘Kansas Grows the Best Wheat in the World’ was coined. He later was quoted, ‘It’s the wheat that makes us famous but it’s the corn that makes us rich,’ and he dug up statistics to prove it. Jake, as his father before him, was never known as a desk farmer; he got out with the men of the soil, studied their problems and tried to find a solution.
Jake was married October 30, 1901, to Ruth Pearl McClintock (whose father was a noted surgeon in Kansas) at Topeka. They had three children: John, born December 13, l904; James, born November 4, 1907; and Marcia, born June 27, 1916.
Jake was chairman of the State Entomological Commission and editor and compiler of regular publications of the State Board of Agriculture. During World War I he was secretary of the Kansas Council of Defense, chairman of the U.S. Food Administration, and president of the National Association of Secretaries and Commissioners of Agriculture. He was director of the Central Trust Company of Topeka and was a member of the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, the Scottish Rite Masons, the Topeka Red Cross, and the Kansas State Historical Society. In 1933 he was given life membership in the Kansas Illustriana Society.
On January 14, 1948, a tribute to Jake Mohler was presented at the 77th Annual Meeting of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture in Topeka. An editorial written on the impending program had this to say concerning the Kansas Agriculture Secretary:
‘No artist on earth is capable of reducing the personality of Jake Mohler to a few square feet of canvas. The imprint of Jake, stamped into the soil of 82,158 square miles of Kansas, is carried in the hearts and minds of several generations of her people. During all of the long and useful years of his life he has sketched his own portrait, often gaily and always colorfully, and the brush strokes of his service to Kansas have been bold and clear and enduring. No doubt Jake himself would rather be boiled in oil than ‘done’ with it. But in his heart will be pride and gratitude, and there will be a tear in his eye as Kansas reciprocates with this gesture of affection for the man who has loved this state and has labored for it during more than a half a century.’
W. Laird Dean, distinguished banker and director of the Santa Fe Railroad, said of Jacob Mohler at his tribute: ‘I take off my hat to him as the man who has done more for the state of Kansas than any man now living and any man of who I know who has passed away.’
In 1950 Jacob Mohler retired after fifty-seven years with the Kansas State Board of Agriculture. He died January 18, 1953, in Topeka and was laid to rest in the Topeka Cemetery.” — Written by Mary Neiswanger Ihinger in the Bulletin of the Shawnee County (KS) Historical Society (1951; with information added 1997).