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Mr. Wheat

On this date in 1897 Milton Reuben Young was born in Berlin, North Dakota. After graduating from LaMoure High School, he went to North Dakota Agricultural College and Graceland College before returning home to run the family farm. In 1919 he married Malinda Benson of Berlin, North Dakota. They had three sons.

Then came the Dirty Thirties with drought and depression. Milton became involved in politics, serving first at a local level on the county Agricultural Adjustment Act board. In 1932 he was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives. Two years later he was elected to the State Senate.

In 1945, after Senator John Moses died, Governor Fred Aandahl appointed Milton to the open seat. He gave up running the family farm to represent North Dakota in Washington.

He wasn’t always universally popular in his home state. His 1952 endorsement of Democrat Richard Russell Jr. for the presidency caused a sensation. There were demands for his removal from the Republican Party. But he called Russell “eminently qualified” and chose to stand by his decision. In spite of the turmoil, he won reelection and spent the rest of his career in the Senate.

Milton was a staunch advocate for farmers. He served on the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, and the Appropriations Committee. He formed strong alliances with Democrats to work on behalf of farmers. His target price concept in the 1973 Farm Bill continues to be in use today. According to U.S. Senate Historian Donald Ritchie, “Every other Senator knew that if you were talking about wheat and agriculture, you had to talk to Milton Young.”

Milton overcame some tough challenges. In 1946, when other candidates were returning to isolationism, he voted in favor of joining the United Nations. In1974, his opponent’s ads used Milton’s age against him. Undeterred, Milton aired an ad showing him breaking a board with his bare hands. He easily won reelection. After the 1980 election he was in line to become President pro tempore of the Senate. But he chose to retire. In a show of respect, the Democratic-controlled lame duck Senate elected Milton Young as President pro tempore, a position in which he served for one day.

Senator Milton Young, who came to be known as Mr. Wheat, died in his Arizona home in 1983. He was buried in Berlin, North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Collin, Andrea Winkjer. Mr. Wheat: A Biography of U.S. Senator Milton R. Young. Smoky Water Press, 2010.

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. “Young, Milton R.” http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=Y000047  Accessed 10/26/2019.

Evening Star. “Nye and Langer Face Voters on Isolationist Issue.” Washington DC. 6/23/46. Page 7.

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