Turkey Trivia: What do you know of Jennie-O?

Turkeys are to Willmar what thoroughbreds are to Kentucky, oil to Oklahoma and start-ups to Silicon Valley -- a thick layer of the cultural and economic bedrock. Who hasn't worked at Jennie-O or for a supplier? Or knows someone who has? Or consum...

4015110+Earlrotated B smaller.jpg
Earl B. Olson

Turkeys are to Willmar what thoroughbreds are to Kentucky, oil to Oklahoma and start-ups to Silicon Valley - a thick layer of the cultural and economic bedrock.

Who hasn't worked at Jennie-O or for a supplier?

Or knows someone who has?

Or consumed one of their diverse products?

Perhaps you have enjoyed the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center on a summer's day.


At the very least, you've likely driven by one of the two Willmar plants and/or the orderly rows of turkey barns along the rural byways.

But what do you know of the Jennie-O Turkey Store story?

Try this quiz to test your knowledge of the country boy who grew a prairie inland empire.

(There is no failing score, but if you score 15 or better there's no homework tomorrow.)

Jennie-O Turkey Store quiz

1) As a youth, Earl B. Olson milked cows on the family farm outside:

A. DeGraff

B. Priam


C. Murdock

D. Danvers.

2) Earl B. graduated high school where?

A. Morris

B. Willmar

C. Benson

D. Starbuck

3) Earl B. started in business at age 21 operating a creamery in:


A. Clontarf

B. Pennock

C. Swift Falls

D. Svea.

4) Earl B. met his future wife, Dorothy Erickson, in:

A. Kerkhoven

B. Sunburg

C. Minneapolis

D. Murdock

5) Branching out from the creamery in 1948, Earl arranged $100,000 financing to purchase the unprofitable Allstate Hatchery turkey plant in Willmar, renaming it Farmer's Produce Co. (FPC). Soon enough, Earl B. was losing money shipping 30,000 whole birds per year. Tur-King, a first of its kind 9-pound boneless turkey roast, foretold the young company's future.It was sold under contract to:

A. Mexico

B. federal prisons

C. U.S. Army

D. Red Owl

E. All of the above

6) By 1951 Earl B. had cut ties with the village creamery to focus on FPC and Earl B. Olson Farms. The skilled management team at the Benson Avenue office included St. Olaf accounting graduate Don Handahl. He and Earl B. were the early sales team keeping scrupulous records using a:

A. chalkboard

B. Dictaphone

C. spiral notebooks

D. an early version of the office computer

7) Kandiyohi County was a good fit to grow the business because of:

A. Abundant and low cost grain

B. farmers eager to expand income

C. available labor

D. all of the above.

8) Cash short in the early '50s to pay growers on the spot, Earl B.'s solution was to:

A. Sell his car

B. Sell the family home

C. Arm wrestle Willmar Bank President Norman Tollakson at Emil's Cafe for a loan

D. Buy a Cadillac.

9) Jennie-O was suggested as a brand name by:

A. an advertising exec

B. Dorothy

C. an employee

D. the couple's daughter Jennifer

10) By 1960, FPC had expanded to Litchfield (Plant 2) and Melrose (Plant 3). The Willmar-based industry was now considered "The leading producer and processing center" in:

A. Minnesota

B. Midwest

C. U.S.

D. World.

11) In the '70s, Earl B. made overseas marketing trips to boost sales to these countries. Which gobbled up turkey tails?

A. Japan

B. Hong Kong

C. Cuba

D. China.

12) Jennie-O Master Cure Turkey Ham was an instant hit, unabashedly replicating the taste and look of Curemaster Ham, a product of what food company?

A. Swift

B. Hormel

C. Armour

D. Gold'n Plump

13) The company's first overseas shipment went by freighter to what country?

A. Italy

B. Sweden

C. Australia

D. Brazil

14) Charles Olson, the oldest of the five children, began working at FPC at age 12 loading, harvesting and eviscerating turkeys. He would later become:

A. a salesman

B. Vice President of Marketing

C. President

D. All of the above

E. None of the above.

15) Veterinarian Dr. Peter Poss was instrumental in the grow-out division managing Earl B. Olson Farms. His contributions in research and development included:

A. Formulating feed to grow bigger turkeys in less time

B. Advances in barn construction and fire safety

C. technical advances in automated feeding systems

D. All of the above.

16) In a negotiated sale, Hormel Foods bought Jennie-O in December 1986 paying:

A. $45 million

B. $62 million

C. $85 million

D. $110 million

17) Which is not a Jennie-O turkey product?

A. Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage

B. Sun-Dried Tomato Breast

C. Bacon made with Sea Salt

D. Sweet BBQ Breast Sticks

E. Smoked Catfish Burgers.

18) This 5-story feed mill completed in 1978 served area farms around Benson, Litchfield and Willmar. It is where?

A. Atwater

B. Raymond

C. Clara City

D. Lake Lillian.

19) In the 1980s, the first minority to impact the available labor force in Willmar was:

A. Hispanics

B. Somalians

C. Vietnamese

D. Chinese

20) Expansion in the 1990s saw Jennie-O acquire or build plants in what communities?

A. Marshall

B. Montevideo

C. Detroit Lakes

D. Pelican Rapids

E. All of the above.

21) In April 2002, Jennie-O merged with the Turkey Store, ranked sixth in the industry. In what state is the Turkey Store, formerly Jerome Foods, based?

A. Iowa

B. Missouri

C. Arkansas

D. Wisconsin

22) In 1980 author C. Paul Luongo wrote "America's Best! 100, An Opinionated Guide to America's Most Charismatic Goods and Services." One of the two Minnesota products sharing top billing was a Jennie-O turkey. What was the other?

A. Scotch Tape

B. The Minnesota Vikings

C. Wheaties

D. A steak from Murray's Steakhouse.

23) Under newly-named President Glenn Leitch, the Jennie-O Turkey Store launched a national advertising campaign in 2011 over the Fox Network during what sporting event?

A. Super Bowl

B. World Series

C. Monday Night Football

D. Thanksgiving Day football.

Jennie-O Turkey Store quiz answers

1. (C) Earl B. was born on a farm near Murdock to Swedish immigrant parents. By age 6, he was milking cows before and after school.

2. (A) Earl attended the West Central School of Agriculture in Morris grades 9-12. To pay living expenses, he shoveled coal and unloaded lumber at the rail yard before moving back home to work at the Murdock creamery.

3. (C) As manager of the Swift Falls Creamery, Earl B. expanded into buying and selling turkeys in 1941. Earlier he had sold his car to buy a new 1936 truck to service farmers with pick-up and delivery of farming staples and products. Soon he had three trucks and two full-time drivers.

4. (D) Dorothy and Earl B. met at her parent's Murdock grocery, where she worked. They married in 1938 and had five children: Charles, Jeffry and Bruce - all of whom worked for the company at one time or another; Jennifer, an occasional spokesperson for Jennie-O, and Michael.

5. (C) Earl B. started raising bronze turkeys as a sideline in 1941. By 1947, 20 growers were sending birds to the creamery. There they were defeathered, packed in ice and shipped by rail eastward to be sold and butchered. The army contract ended in 18 months but the knowhow gained proved a springboard for a later all-out effort into further processing.

6.(C) According to Handahl: "We never confirmed sales or buys by letter. We didn't have formal contracts. Deals were jotted down in spiral notebooks." Other members of the management team were John Jeffords, Dick Elliott, Harold Westhoff, John Munzhuber and Spencer Kostad.

7. (D) Local farmers had raised turkeys as a sideline starting in the late 1930s. Earl B. established a relationship with the growers to supplement his own grow-out farms. The turkey poults were supplied by Al Huisinga's Willmar Poultry and Egg.

8. (D) A Fleetwood model from local Cadillac garage, which he parked in front of the FPC office where growers would see it. Their doubts about Earl B.'s ability to pay subsided. In Earl's account, it allowed him to pay growers two to four weeks down the road, a million dollars worth "of extra financing and no interest charges.''

9. (B) At the urging of his East Coast broker, Earl B. was searching for a brand name for the FPC products. Over Thanksgiving dinner, Dorothy suggested their daughter Jennie's name, then a hyphen and "O" for Olson. The broker loved it.

10 (D) In 1959, 60 million pounds were processed in Willmar as Minnesota surpassed long-time national leader California. Willmar could bill itself as "The world's leading turkey and processing center."

11. (B) Hong Kong helped turn "the seldom-used product into a moneymaker."

12. (B) After three months on the market, Hormel sent the copycat a cease and desist letter.

13.(A) The freighter Douala delivered 30,000 pounds of turkey to Leghorn (Livorno), Italy. The next shipment of 90,000 pounds sank with the ship in a violent storm off Newfoundland. Nine crewmembers died, 20 were saved.

14. (D) All of the above. Charles Olson believed the company's future was in processed turkey and specialty items. Through the Research and Development (R&D) division, new products emerged appealing to consumer interest in diet, health and convenience.

15. (D) Dr. Poss received the prestigious Siehl Prize for contributions in agriculture in 2002.

16. (C) $85 million. In 38 years the Olsons and team members had grown the Willmar enterprise from, figuratively, a poult to a 40-pound tom - the largest privately held turkey processing operation in the country with $155 million in annual sales.

17. (E) The Jennie-O Turkey Store website burger page does not, for now, list a smoked catfish burger.

18. (A) The feed and pellet mill in Atwater is described in the book as "ultra-modern (with) a fully automated computer system for mixing food, grain receiving and formulating grain shipments."

19. (A ) Hispanic field workers looking for steady employment. Later, Somalian immigrants, escaping a war-ravaged country, began arriving in the mid-90s. In 2001 Willmar was recognized as an All-American City, in part for its inclusion of immigrant population.

20. (E) By the end of the 20th century what had begun as a farmyard side business in Swift County had become a food processing giant producing 900 million pounds of turkey a year.

21. (D) The Turkey Store in Barron, Wisconsin, has both a hatchery and processing plant along U.S. 8. Wallace Jerome and son Jerry, much like the Olsons, had grown the business from the family farm over roughly the same time line.

22 (D) Murray's Steakhouse. Luongo, who claimed he spent six years and $250,000 on research, said by "charismatic" he meant a quality that leaves you feeling you are enjoying the best.

23. (B) The MAKE THE SWITCH campaign aired during baseball's World Series.

What To Read Next
Area funerals scheduled through Feb. 11, 2023
Area funerals scheduled through Feb. 12, 2023
Area funerals scheduled through Feb. 10, 2023
The Clubs & Organizations calendar is published weekly on Thursdays. Email submissions to by 5 p.m. Monday.