When the corn is ripe, it’s time to get busy. They know that well in Nebraska, where people have been harvesting corn for centuries, long before the state ever had its name. Today Nebraska produces the third-most corn of any state in the country (behind Iowa and Illinois), and that is a significant status in a country that produces far more corn than any other on earth. In 1944 LIFE photographer Wallace Kirkland documented what it looked like when a small Nebraska town went to harvest, and he had his camera was trained on more than the fields. He showed a downtown closed during the peak of the harvest, and people hitching rides out to the fields to partake in a community event. This collection of photos, which never ran in the magazine, tell a story of how corn was not just an engine of the economy but also a cornerstone of a culture.

Nebraska corn harvest

Photo by Wallace Kirkland

Nebraska Corn Harvest

Photo by Wallace Kirkland

Nebraska Corn Harvest

Photo by Wallace Kirkland

Nebraska Corn Harvest

Photo by Wallace Kirkland

Nebraska Corn Harvest

Photo by Wallace Kirkland

Nebraska Corn Harvest

Photo by Wallace Kirkland

Nebraska Corn Harvest

Photo by Wallace Kirkland

Nebraska Corn Harvest

Photo by Wallace Kirkland

Nebraska Corn Harvest

Photo by Wallace Kirkland

Nebraska Corn Harvest

Photo by Wallace Kirkland

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