JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES and the MIRACLE WHEAT DISPUTE

(Investigator #215,   2024 March)


MIRACLE WHEAT

In 1903 Virginian farmer K.B. Stoner (born c.1843) found a wheat plant on his farm which "142 heads of grain". The next year "2400 grains were planted, and the yield was 45 pounds of wheat…" He named it "Miracle Wheat".

To Charles T. Russell (1852-1916), leader and pastor of the Russellites, who later became Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), Miracle Wheat signified that: "God is preparing for the Millennium." Russell had predicted that Armageddon would finish in 1915 followed by world rule by God. Miracle Wheat was evidence that billions of people who would rise from the dead could all be fed.
 
J.A. Bohnet, a long-time member of Russell's cult, obtained a "few grains" in 1907, planted them, and by 1911 accumulated a crop which he donated to Russell's Watch Tower Society.

Miracle Wheat was sold from Russell's headquarters for $1 per pound, 60 times the ordinary price for wheat. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published a cartoon which implied Russell was defrauding the public. Russell sued for libel — $100,000 (today US$3 million). Stoner had been selling Miracle Wheat for $1.25 per pound which he reduced to about 8 cents when Russell's price got noticed by The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Critics accused Russell of fraud. JWs respond that Miracle Wheat was proven superior to other wheat. Who is right?


INTRODUCTION TO WHEAT

Wheat includes any agricultural cereal grass of the genus Triticum in the grass family Poaceae:

Wheat is cultivated for its seeds. A bushel (60 pounds-weight) has about 1 million individual kernels and produces 42 pounds of flour.

The Genus Triticum has hundreds of species, subspecies and varieties.   Triticum aestivum is common wheat used for making bread; Triticum durum is used for pasta; Triticum compactum for softer cakes, cookies, and pastries; Triticum monococcum is hulled wheat with tough husks.

Triticum turgidum is native to countries from Egypt to China and includes Triticum turgidum var. mirabile, or "Miracle Wheat", a variation with branched ears.


Miracle Wheat picture
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxonomy_of_wheat#/media/File:Blemiracle



THE WATCH TOWER

Articles in praise of Miracle Wheat appeared in The Watch Tower from 1908 to 1916. For example:

     
"MIRACLE WHEAT"

The public press is telling of the origin of "Miracle Wheat" in answer to prayer. The description has the earmarks of truth to it, in that it gives the address of the man whose prayers are said to have been answered—"K. B. Stoner, a farmer of Fincastle, Botetourt county, Virginia." It would appear from the account that the original stalk of wheat appeared in the midst of a crop of the ordinary kind, but with "142 heads of grain."  We quote:—

"Mr. Stoner was amazed. It seemed incredible. When a Frenchman, in 1842,  announced that he had discovered a species of wheat in the Mediterranean country which produced four heads to the plant, people said he was crazy.
 
"But here was a plant with 142 heads!

"Naturally Mr. Stoner carefully preserved the heads, and the next year sowed the seed, continuing to do this each year, for he realized he had discovered a phenomenal brand of grain. And each year his amazement increased.

"That first year after discovering the plant he got 2000 grains. In 1906 he got sixteen bushels [960 pounds], and has now raised the crop of wheat, all carefully preserved for seed, to 800 bushels.

 "What is most remarkable about the wheat is this: Whereas there is  produced in the wheat sections of that country an average at the best of seventeen bushels to an acre, the average yield of the "miracle wheat" during the last three years has been fifty-six bushels to the acre; and whereas from eight to ten pecks of seed are required to plant an acre in    Virginia, Mr. Stoner uses only two pecks, and, in comparison to the yield of ordinary wheat in the neighborhood, which is eight bushels for each bushel of seed, Mr. Stoner gets about seventy-five bushels for one. An ordinary stalk of wheat covers about four inches of space. The miracle wheat covers twelve.

The Government Report
"Last year United States government officials became interested in the remarkable wheat and sent Assistant Agriculturalist H. A. Miller to examine it. In his report he declares:

"The wheat, which came from an unknown source, has been grown in the nursery every year since that time, and also has been grown under field conditions the last two years, giving excellent results. The yield has been from two to three times the yield of other varieties grown on the farm under the same condition of culture, except the rate of seeding, which was two pecks to the acre, while other varieties were sown at the rate of eight to ten pecks per acre, which is the common practice of farmers in the vicinity.

"'Milling tests have been made of this wheat, and its quality seems to be as good as, if not superior to, other varieties of winter wheat.'..."

Is It Restitution Wheat?
If this account be but one-half true it testifies afresh to God's ability to provide things needful for the "times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began."--Acts 3:19-21. (w1908  3/15 86)


OTHER AMAZING WHEATS

Other astonishing wheat varieties also made news. The Watch Tower 1908 July 15 p.214 describes "Alaska" wheat, produced in Idaho, "with stalks like sugar cane and yielding 277 bushels of highly nutritious kernels to the acre" and "so sturdy that storms that ruin other stock affect its giant stems but little".

Alaska wheat was exposed as a scam which the Daily Eagle reported in "Miracle Wheat Has An Alaskan Cousin" (w1911 9/27 p. 5)

Also dubious was Ward's wheat. The Watch Tower reported:

W. W. Ward, of Dayton, Washington, has discovered a new variety of wheat that has seven distinct heads united to a common base. And each head is larger than the ordinary wheat. Ward figures that the new variety will  yield as high as 280 bushels to the acre, with an average of 200 bushels.  (1908 October 1 p. 291)

To cultivate Ward's wheat, grains of wheat had to be planted 42 inches apart at the bottom of trenches 20 inches deep and covered with 2 inches of  soil. The 2-inch covering had to be repeated every 3 weeks until 10 coverings were achieved. With each covering "the grain gives forth three shoots" and "with the final covering the total amounts to 59,049 stalks or head of grain."

In this instance even Russell expressed skepticism: "It is difficult to believe all this—that a single seed could thus produce seventy pounds of grain..." (w1909 7/15, 212-213)

The prevalence of wheat fraud should have made Russell cautious. But global paradise was due to start in 1915 and Miracle Wheat looked like evidence that billions of resurrected people could all be fed, and this may have made him gullible.


Miracle Wheat in Demand
  
The Watch Tower in 1911 reported:     

The notice in THE WATCH TOWER of June 15 that Brother Bohnet has "miracle wheat" in abundance now, and that he will sell it at $1 per pound and donate the entire proceeds to our Tract Fund, has brought in many orders.
 ( w1911 8/1 226)


THE BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE

Russell's $100,000 libel suit against the Daily Eagle went to trial in January 1913. The Daily Eagle intended to prove Russell's cult "a money-making scheme."

Actually 95% of purchasers were members of Russell's cult. Only one person, a non-member, sought a refund. 

The following news reports can be read by typing "Miracle Wheat" in the search box at:
https://bklyn.newspapers.com/paper/the-brooklyn-daily-eagle/1890/

1911 9/22 p.1 Church A Salesroom For 'Miracle' Wheat At $60 Per Bushel
This report mentions Russell's headquarters "the Tabernacle" as the selling address. The price $1 per pound, compared to the common price of $1 per bushel, was sixty times as expensive! Yet Russell gave no guarantee regarding its productivity. He also denied having anything to do with the wheat other than provide the sales address. 

1911 9/23 p.1 Easy Money Puzzle 
Publication of the offending cartoon.

1911 9/23 p.1 Skeptical Uncle Sam Seeks To Know More About Miracle Wheat Postoffice Inspector Dickson Will Have The Wheat...Tested

1911 9/24 p.6 Claims for 'Miracle' Wheat Not Merited 

1911 9/25 p.1 Miracle Wheat On Demand On The Produce Exchange

1911 9/27 p.5 Miracle Wheat Has An Alaskan Cousin

1911 9/29 p.1 Easy Money Puzzle

1911 10/19 p.1 Pastor Russell Sues Eagle for $100,000
Recapitulates the circumstances of Russell's law suit.

1911 11/29 p.3 Michigan Editor Writes About "Miracle Wheat"

1911 12/9 p.18 Eagle Files Its Answer in 'Pastor' Russell Suit

1913 1/21 pp 1-2 How Miracle Wheat Grew in Virginia

1913 1/23 p. 3 "Pastor" Russell May Not Testify

1913 1/27 p.3 'Miracle Wheat' Low In Government Test
Carlton R. Ball, "a United States Government expert cerealist" described tests done by the Department of Agriculture:
"When tested under strict rules and accurately measured pieces of ground, the "Stoner" or "Miracle", wheat, was found by the government experts to rank far below other kinds of wheat, when sown at the same thickness..."
"Of about thirty varieties of wheat tested in competition, "Stoner" or "Miracle" wheat ranked No. 18 in yield when sown 6 pecks to the acre. With the planting of 4 pecks to the acre the "Stoner" or "Miracle" wheat ranked third, and at 5 pecks per acre, ranked second..."

1913 1/28  p.2 Russell In Court As Lawyer Sums Up

1913 1/29 p.4 "Pastor" Russell And The Eagle
Justice Kelby, summed up, saying in part: "Nine farmers from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana, Georgia and Tennessee, were put on the stand to testify... The yield from the "miracle wheat" they testified, was from one and half to two times that of ordinary wheat, when sown very thin. The advertisement of "Pastor" Russell in his Watch Tower had, stated, however, "that the yield ought to be from ten to fifteen times of ordinary wheat," and the claim was not borne out by the evidence.

1913 1/29 p.16 "Pastor" Russell Loses Libel Suit

1913 8/22 p.3 "Pastor" Russell Has "Cancer Cure"
Russell promoted many cranky ideas, including Cancer Cure, which by association implied the Miracle Wheat claims were cranky too.

1915 2/25 p.2 "Miracle Wheat" Again Being Exploited in an "Ad" Disguised as News

1915 4/28 p.3 Don't Like Miracle Wheat

1915 5/7 p.1 Eagle Upheld in Libel Suit Victory
The court ordered Russell to pay the costs of the court action.

1915 5/10 p.16 Eagle's Victory Over "Pastor," Complete
The Eagle's win resulted in many newspapers ceasing to publish Russell's sermons and: "Clergymen in numerous cities have banded together to call public attention to the "Pastor's" court record..."

1916 11/1 p.18 'Pastor' C.T. Russell Dies; Burial Here


RUSSELL LOST

Russell published his views on losing the libel suit in the February, 1913, Watch Tower:


"AS DECEIVERS AND YET TRUE"
     
MY SUIT against The Eagle for slanderous defamation of reputation has been decided in its favor. A Jury of twelve men have decided that The Eagle was justified in making its vicious onslaughts upon me, notwithstanding the Judge's Charge that, according to the law, the cartoon, at least, was a slanderous, vicious libel…

The Case Briefly Reviewed
I am interested in everything progressive and tending to prove that we are entering the great Thousand Years of earth's blessings under Messiah. In the columns of THE WATCH TOWER I have noted the coming of Divine blessings in fulfilment of the prediction that "The wilderness shall blossom as the rose," "The earth shall yield her increase," etc. Five years ago we quoted in THE WATCHTOWER columns reports respecting "Miracle Wheat." We gave the name and address (Mr. Stoner) of the farmer who discovered this new wheat and his reports of its remarkable qualities. We published also the report of Mr. Miller, the Government expert, who thoroughly investigated it and pronounced upon its superior qualities.
     
Some of our readers purchased seed from Mr. Stoner at $1.25 per pound and approved it. In 1910 one of the friends of our Society, who had raised some of this wheat, sold it for seed at $1.00 per pound, and donated the proceeds to our Society. In 1911 the same friend, having raised more seed, asked that THE WATCH TOWER give the benefit of this to its readers at $1.00 a pound post-paid, and appropriate the net results to the furtherance of its work. Another friend, who had some of the same seed, also donated similarly, the total amount being twenty bushels.
     
For the accommodation of our readers, we allowed this seed-wheat to be put up in pound packages and mailed from THE WATCH TOWER Office, just as the U.S. Government handles such seeds at Washington. We did the business at the request of others and in their interest, and credited them on our books with the results, setting aside to them proportionately voting shares in our Society. We made no claim for the wheat on our own knowledge. We merely gave the report of the Government expert, of the originator, and of our friends who had tried the wheat. We merely acted as intermediary.
     
Nevertheless, everything that was said respecting the wheat was fully proven at this trial by expert witnesses, interested and disinterested, and their testimony was not shaken. It was also shown that farmer Stoner and his business partner, Mr. Knight, made no sales of this wheat under $1.25 per pound until September, 1911; and that they had a written contract between them that none of the wheat was to be sold at any price until the following year — 1912. Suddenly in September, 1911, they changed their plans, considering that they had wheat enough accumulated, put the price down to $5.00 per bushel [8 cents per pound], about the time that THE WATCH TOWER wheat was all sold at a dollar a pound. This The Eagle's attorney claimed was proof of fraud on the part of THE WATCH TOWER — sufficient excuse for the slanderous assaults of The Eagle upon me.

It was in vain that my attorney sought to show the Jury The Eagle's malice — that it really was attacking me along religious grounds; that it had set itself as the champion of certain clerical enemies of mine, and was seeking to destroy my influence and, if possible, to drive me from Brooklyn. In the court-room sat about twenty-five of my friends, who had come long distances at their own expense to have an opportunity to speak a word in my behalf. Through some intricacies of the Law respecting evidence, these were unable to be heard in my behalf...
                 
I am the more encouraged because I realize that the great Day of Blessing, the great Thousand-Year Day of Messiah's Kingdom, is near at hand—is dawning now. Soon Satan, the "Prince of Darkness," will be bound for a thousand years, to deceive the nations no more. (Revelation 20:2,3,6) No longer will Darkness be permitted to masquerade as Light, and the Light be slandered as Darkness….  (w1913 2/15 62-63


RUTHERFORD

Joseph F. Rutherford, Russell's lawyer and future successor in the cult, wrote that the WTS sold 30 bushels of Miracle Wheat with gross receipts $1800 [$55,000 in 2024].

His booklet A Great Battle in the Ecclesiastical Heavens (1915) did not produce useful new evidence.

Rutherford accused the Daily Eagle of  having a bad reputation, making unwarranted attacks, being the tool of an "Unholy Alliance" of "preachers" who opposed Russell's "enlightening the people", and that the jury had "strong religious prejudices". Such opinions and accusations would have been disallowed in court as irrelevant distractions from the question of whether Miracle Wheat lived up to the claims made for it. 

Rutherford named 11 farmers who "testified to its superior quality over other wheat":

The Brooklyn Eagle, to offset  all this testimony of practical farmers and wheat raisers, produced but a single witness, namely, Mr. Ball, of the Agricultural Department of the United States Government, who was neither a farmer nor wheat raiser. Mr. Ball testified that he was "connected with the U.S. Government with the Department of Agriculture as an Agronomist and Acting Cerealist in charge of cereal investigations" (fol. 732). His imposing title was about his only recommendation. He produced a memoranda of experiments with Miracle Wheat, supposed to have been made at the Government station, by persons whom he was unable to name.


DISCUSSION

Rutherford's belittling the government expert as only a "single" witness and implying his qualifications meant nothing, would not have impressed the court.

Summaries by experts or informed people of research done by others are part and parcel of daily life. A school teacher does not discover all knowledge that he teaches but imparts conclusions built up from countless experiments and observations of previous generations. The testimony of  Carlton R. Ball, the US Government expert agronomist represented the results of tests done by many researchers. He described investigations done at the experimental station Arlington Park in 1907-1908 where varieties of wheat were planted side by side and 30 varieties compared. (1913, January 27, p.3)

Rutherford, by citing 11 farmers who claimed superior harvests from Miracle Wheat without sufficient details so others can replicate them, and without information on how many farmers did not get superior results, elevated subjectivity and hear-say above scientific method. The court judge noted that the farmers' tests were unscientific:

On cross examination the farmers were asked if they had ever tested the "Miracle Wheat" by sowing it under exactly the same conditions as they did their old-time brands. They laughed and said they knew very well what ordinary wheat would do, when sown thin at the rate of two  pecks per acre. The fact remained, however, that the tests had been loose and inexact. (1913 1/29 p. 16)

Mr. Miller, the agronomist Russell referred to, apparently did not test Miracle Wheat by sowing it along side other brands but merely inspected it and otherwise relied on what Stoner, the discoverer, told him. The 25 witnesses not allowed to testify in court, which Russell implies was due to religious prejudice, were his friends who were there to testify to his good character. However, scientific conclusions are  not judged on character. If someone says "12 x 11 = 122", which is wrong, it stays wrong no matter how many friends testify what a nice person he is. 

Scientific investigation involves controlling for every likely influence including, in the case of wheat, time of year sowed, density of sowing, weather, soil, temperature, rainfall, fertilisers, insect pests, plant diseases, etc.

Even if all influences are kept identical, harvests will still vary for reasons unknown. Therefore statistical calculations are needed to test whether the variation from average is significant.

Psychology also has an effect. A person who expects a certain result may subconsciously introduce differences in how he does an experiment and bias it toward the outcome he hopes for.

If Miracle Wheat was greatly superior to other varieties why did its use decline and not spread worldwide and prevent 20th century famines? A final Russellite defense of Miracle wheat (The Golden Age 1924 4/9 429-431) doesn't address this question.

Miracle Wheat still gets occasional mention in specialized texts where it's noted as an inferior wheat. For example Svetka Koric (1966) writes:

The tetraploid branched wheat Triticum turgidum var. mirabile has long been known and always attracted attention because of its large branched ears and large number of grains. It has been used for cultivation because it promised much, but always disappointed as it never produced either a high yield or good grain. Its growth habit was too luxuriant and required a low stand density, so that the increased yield per spike could not compensate for the smaller number of ears. It lodged easily and was not resistant to diseases.

It was certainly right to conclude that its big productive spike with 120-150 grains could be a basis for high yield. However, unfortunately, all attempts with the turgidum branched wheat have failed. Much work has been done with this type of wheat in the USSR, but without success so that work on tetraploid branched wheats has been almost completely abandoned.      

Was Russell's selling at 60 times the normal price for wheat therefore a scam to make money for his Watchtower Society?

Russell knew of at least two other alleged miraculous wheat varieties which failed testing. Obviously some farmers did conduct scams or just made poor observations. If this is also true of Stoner, the discoverer of Miracle Wheat in the USA, then Russell and his supplier of the wheat, J.A. Bohnet, were duped. 

This is not something Russell could have usefully argued in court — "I was duped and the Brooklyn Eagle misinterpreted my gullibility as fraud." Such argument would have called into question his reputation (among Russellites) for incomparable wisdom, besides attacking the integrity of the 11 farmers who testified on his behalf, and would still not have won him the $100,000 [today $3million] that he sought.


REFERENCES

Miracle Wheat
https://www.jehovahs-witness.com/topic/136464/russell-miracle-wheat-scandal

Rutherford, J.F. 1915 A Great Battle in the Ecclesiastical Heavens

Svetka Koric, Productivity of Branched Ears of Vulgare Wheat. In: Contemporary Agriculture Savremena Poljoprivreda, Vol. 14, No. 11-12, 1966. pp. 545-551

Watch Tower articles
•    Miracle Wheat (w1908 3/15 86)  (w1909 7/15 212, 213)
•    That Ye Bear Much Fruit (w1910 6/15 203)
•    Restitution Work Begun (w1910 9/1 279)
•    Miracle Wheat And Miracle Rye (w1910 10/1 307)
•    A Donation Of Miracle Wheat (w1911 6/15 178)
•     Miracle Wheat In Demand (w1911 8/1 226)
•    Earth's Imperfection Is Fallen Man's Blessing  (w1912 7/1 214-215)
•    As Deceivers And Yet True (w1913 2/15 62)
•    Miracle Wheat Takes Prize (w1915 3/1 79)
•    Proper And Improper Advertising (w1915 7/15, 218)

Wheat classification

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxonomy_of_wheat
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxonomy_of_wheat#/media/File:Blemiracle
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triticum_turgidum
BS


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