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Fred V. Heinkel (1897 - 1990)


Fred V. Heinkel was president of the Missouri Farmers Association from 1940 to 1979. Throughout his life, he worked on behalf of farmers in Missouri and the United States.

Frederick "Fred" Victor Heinkel was born September 22, 1897, on a farm in Jefferson County, Missouri. He was the only child of William and Cora Belle McDaniel Heinkel. In 1904, when Fred was about seven years old, the family moved to Franklin County, Missouri, where he attended school through the sixth grade. Like many farm children at the time, he left school after completing the sixth grade so that he could help on the family farm. He later earned his high school equivalency diploma and even went on to earn his teaching certificate, but he never returned to school and he never worked as a teacher. Instead, Heinkel continued to work on the family farm until his father's death in 1936.

In 1917 he attended a lecture by William Hirth, founder and president of the Missouri Farmers Association (MFA). The MFA was part of the growing farmers' cooperative movement, in which farmers formed clubs to conduct their business. By working together, farmers were able to buy goods at lower bulk prices and sell their products more profitably. Heinkel was impressed with Hirth's argument in favor of farm clubs and cooperatives, and he quickly joined his local club. He became secretary-treasurer of his farm club and was elected president of the Franklin County Farmers Association, his local MFA cooperative.

As the leader of the Franklin County cooperative, Heinkel developed a close relationship with  Hirth, advising him on issues of agricultural politics. In 1936 he was elected vice president of MFA, and when Hirth died in 1940, Heinkel became MFA president. He was reelected to that position every year until 1979.

Heinkel with MFA Group Heinkel with MFA Group Heinkel with MFA Group.

Fred Heinkel (front center) poses with a group of MFA leaders, circa 1950s.

[Fred V. Heinkel Papers, 1914-1988 (C4105), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]

During Heinkel's presidency, MFA grew to become a large and successful business involved in all aspects of agriculture. Heinkel oversaw the expansion of the cooperative and led it through several reorganizations. Between 1940 and 1979, MFA's membership grew from approximately 32,000 to over 175,000 and its annual income grew from $100,000 to $725 million. MFA's associated businesses, like MFA Oil and MFA Insurance companies, also grew. MFA soon became one of the most successful farmers' cooperatives in the United States.

Throughout his career, Heinkel was active in agricultural politics. When the federal government was implementing the New Deal
The New Deal was a program that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated to improve the economy and bring the country out of the Great Depression. Beginning when he took office in 1933 and lasting until the beginning of World War II in 1941, Roosevelt created many federally funded programs providing jobs for the unemployed, care for the elderly, and financial help to farmers. The programs also created laws giving workers better working conditions and wages. There were many new organizations created and laws passed under the New Deal, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put young people to work improving parks and forests, and the Social Security Act, which established federal social security payments to the elderly and the disabled.

The New Deal fundamentally changed the role that the federal government played in America's economy. Behind it was the idea that government could be used to provide help to the disadvantaged. As a result, the powers of the federal government were greatly expanded. This was—and still is—a controversial idea in American politics; politicians still argue today about how involved the government should be in regulating the economy and providing help to the poor.
in the 1930s, he became involved in agricultural policies to help farmers, who had been suffering from an economic depression
In late October 1929 a devastating stock market crash occurred on Wall Street. The crash was the result of risky financial decisions made by investors in the stock market. The value of stocks fell dramatically, sending the economy into a tailspin. Many people went broke and faced tough times. The crash was followed by the Great Depression, a severe worldwide economic downturn that lasted until World War II. Many people were unemployed during this time, income dropped, and many families became homeless.
since the 1920s. Farmers were producing more food than could be consumed, leading to low food prices and low incomes. This helped contribute to the depression. During the New Deal, the government stepped in to help regulate prices and incomes by paying farmers not to grow as much of certain crops. This brought prices up enough for farmers to earn a decent living. Heinkel spent much of his career fighting to keep these federal agricultural programs alive.
Heinkel also focused on statewide issues that affected farmers. He lobbied
A lobbyist is a person who attempts to influence decisions made by government officials such as legislators or members of a government agency. Lobbying can be done by many different types of people, including individuals, fellow legislators or government officials, and members of a special interest group. For example, the Missouri National Education Association is a special interest group that lobbies on behalf of teachers in Missouri.
the state government on matters such as building better rural roads, bringing telephone service and electrical power to rural areas, and improving public school systems. He and others in MFA were instrumental in convincing the state to build a four-year medical school at the University of Missouri in Columbia. They believed such a school was needed to train doctors who could eventually provide medical services to people living in rural Missouri. When a severe drought hit Missouri in 1953 and farmers had no hay to feed their livestock, Heinkel and MFA helped by buying emergency supplies of hay from out of state and distributing them to farmers for free.

Heinkel did not marry until 1946, when he was almost fifty years old. His wife, Dorothy C. Hart Riley, was a schoolteacher. Some of Fred's associates credit her with improving his grammar in his correspondence and other writings as MFA president.

Advising President Johnson Advising President Johnson Advising President Johnson.

Fred Heinkel (back left) and other national agricultural leaders meet with President Johnson (front right) to advise him on US farm policy, 1963.

[Fred V. Heinkel Papers, 1914-1988 (C4105), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]

Because of his expertise and political connections, Heinkel was often called upon to work with politicians and other agricultural leaders on issues of state and national importance. He served on many government-related committees, including the University of Missouri Board of Curators, the National Advisory Commission on Food and Fiber, and the Peace Corps National Advisory Council. He also served on committees that studied methods of insect and plant disease control and researched plans for building dams and levees along the Missouri River to help control flooding and harness the river's power for electricity.

Possibly his greatest political moment, however, came in 1960, when Heinkel met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Kennedy was preparing to appoint the next secretary of agriculture,
The US Secretary of Agriculture is the head of the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA. The USDA is the executive branch of the United States government that administers farm policy.
and Heinkel was one of two final candidates. Even though Heinkel was not selected, Kennedy and other politicians continued to consult with him on agricultural issues.

In 1979, one year before he planned to retire, Heinkel lost the MFA presidential election to Eric Thompson. Thompson represented a group of younger MFA employees and members who wanted the cooperative's leaders to focus less on politics and more on business. Heinkel continued to work for MFA Insurance, now Shelter Insurance, for a few years before retiring.

Fred V. Heinkel Fred V. Heinkel Fred V. Heinkel.

Portrait of Fred Heinkel in his later years, circa 1970s.

[Fred V. Heinkel Papers, 1914-1988 (C4105), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]

On October 31, 1990, Heinkel died at Boone Hospital Center in Columbia, Missouri, at the age of ninety-three. Dorothy Heinkel had died a few months before him. The Heinkels are buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Columbia, Missouri. Though he had no children, Heinkel left a lasting legacy, helping to shape Missouri's rural landscape through both his political efforts and his business skills. In 2014 MFA celebrated its one hundredth year of operation. The cooperative continues to thrive in no small part due to Fred Heinkel's thirty-nine years of leadership.

Text and research by Heather Richmond


References and Resources

For more information about Fred V. Heinkel's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Fred V. Heinkel in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.

  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • "Fred Heinkel." Columbia Daily Tribune. October 31, 1990. p. 2.
  • Books and Articles
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 389-390. [REF F508 D561]
    • Kirkendall, Richard S. A History of Missouri, Volume V: 1919-1953. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986. [REF F550 H629 v. 5]
    • Lay, Chuck. "Fred Heinkel, 1897-1990." Today's Farmer. v. 83, no. 2 (February 1991), pp. 6-11. [F560 M6915 v.83 (1991)]
    • Lay, Chuck. Proud Past, Bright Future: MFA Incorporated's First 100 Years. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Company, 2013. [REF F560 L451]
    • Young, Raymond A. Cultivating Cooperation: A History of the Missouri Farmers Association. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995. [REF F560 Y86]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Heinkel, Fred V. (1897-1990), Papers, 1914-1988 (C4105)
      The papers of Fred V. Heinkel contain materials documenting the political and business activities of a former longtime president of the Missouri Farmers Association (MFA). A small amount of personal material is also included.

Outside Resources

These links, which open in another window, will take you outside the Society's website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following websites:

Historic Missourians: Fred V. Heinkel
Fred V. HeinkelFred V. Heinkel.

Portrait of Heinkel taken on April 15, 1943, three years after he became president of the Missouri Farmers Association.

[Fred V. Heinkel Papers, 1914-1988 (C4105), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]

Frederick Victor Heinkel

Born: September 22, 1897
Died: October 31, 1990 (age 93)
Category: Leaders & Activists
Regions of Missouri: Central, Southeast
Missouri County: Franklin County
Heinkel's Signature