"Knee-high on the Fourth of July” is a popular American agricultural saying that has been cited in print since at least 1854. If a corn crop had reached the height of “knee-high” by July 4th, then the crop was growing properly.
New corn hybrids now require that corn be shoulder-high or neck-high by July 4th.
The Free Dictionary
*knee-high by the 4th of July
Fig. grown as tall as it should. (Corn seedlings are proverbially supposed to be as high as someone’s knee by July 4th.) (*Typically: be ~; become ~; grow ~.)
Maize ( /ˈmeɪz/ MAYZ; Zea mays L, from Spanish: maíz after Taíno mahiz) known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times.
Maize is most sensitive to drought at the time of silk emergence, when the flowers are ready for pollination. In the United States, a good harvest was traditionally predicted if the maize were “knee-high by the Fourth of July”, although modern hybrids generally exceed this growth rate.
14 June 1854, New-York (NY) Daily Times, pg. 2, col. 4:
Farming Items in New-Jersey.
Correspondence of the New York Daily Times
NORTH CHESTER, Morris Co., N. J.
There will not be much Corn knee-high by the 4th of July, as the Spring has been so backward.
J. T. H.
11 July 1856, The Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), “The Crops in Bucks (County),” pg. 2, col. 2:
“The corn is growing finely, but in many places it is very late and was not knee high on the fourth of July.”
3 July 1883, Rockford (IL) Gazette, pg. 2, col. 4:
Corn looks green, rank and clean, and quite a number of fields will be knee high by the 4th of July.
3 July 1884, Sumner (IA) Gazette, pg. 4, col. 1:
It has been considered that if corn was knee high by the Fourth of July that the crop was sure and safe. According to that rule the most of the corn will get there.
8 July 1886, Aurelia (IA) Sentinel, pg. 5, col. 1:
it is a standard saying among farmers that if corn is knee high on the fourth of July the chances are in favor of a good crop. What, then, may we expect this year when the corn is shoulder high on that day.
14 June 1888, The Cultivator and Country Gentleman, pg. 480, col. 2:
If it goes on as it has begun, the growth will be knee high by July 4th, and the problem will present itself— shall it be mown then, or stock be turned on to keep it within bounds?
29 June 1888, Spirit Lake (IA) Beacon, pg. 5, col. 2:
Father Clarkson reports as an old saying, “If corn is knee high by the 4th of July, it is far enough advanced for a safe crop.” By this rule the prospect for a corn crop in this section is not bad.
30 June 1895, Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, NE), pg. 11, col. 1:
The corn, despite the wild and capricious spring, had reached the saving limit—knee high by the Fourth, and all seemed to promise a rich reward for the farmer’s toil.
3 July 1903, The Evening Tribune (Hornellsville, NY), “Canisteo,” pg. 5, col. 5:
This fine corn weather has brought that cereal along so fast that the traditional saying, “corn knee high by the Fourth of July” will be a truthful realization of the crop in this vicinity.
1 August 1904, The Journal (Springfield, IL), “Farm, Orchard and Garden” by J. S. Trigg (Rockford, IA), pg. 8, col. 1:
Good crops of corn may be mae even if it is not knee high by the Fourth of July. It is July and August tropical warmth which makes this crop, and it makes very fast when the questions of heat and moisture are just right.
5 July 1913, The Implement Age (Springfield, OH), pg. 10, col. 2:
The old saying that came down from the pioneers that corn that is knee high by the Fourth of July makes good corn, will be fulfilled this year. There is a large acreage of corn and the stand to date is very good.
August 1919, Gardners’ Chronicle, pg. 272, col. 1:
When I was a boy, the farmers had a saying about corn that if it was “knee high by Fourth of July,” it was considered a good growth. Ours was knee high and more by the Tenth of June.
9 July 1920, Iron County Record (Cedar City, UT), pg. 5, col. 3:
In the corn belt corn that is “knee high, 4th of July” is considered safe.
OCLC WorldCat record
Knee High by the Fourth of July : a murder by month mystery
Author: Jess Lourey
Publisher: Woodbury, Minn. : Midnight Ink, 2007.
Series: Murder by month mysteries, 3.
Edition/Format: Book : English : 1st ed
OCLC WorldCat record
Knee high by the fourth of July : more stories of growing up in and around small towns in the Midwest
Author: Jean Tennant
Publisher: Everly, IA : Shapato Pub., 2009.
Edition/Format: Book : English
Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI)
Curiosities: Should corn really be ‘knee high by the Fourth of July’?
June 10, 2012 2:00 pm • University Communications
Q: Should corn really be “knee high by the Fourth of July”?
A: Maybe if you’re standing on your head.
“Nowadays, if corn is knee-high by the Fourth of July, it’s way behind,” said Joe Lauer, agronomy professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The last time the old adage was a useful gauge of corn crop development was maybe two generations of farmers ago.
“The technologies we have now for growing corn — from the equipment we have to the plant hybrids we develop to the treatments we put on the seeds and in the fields — have shifted things,” Lauer said. “With all that working for us, corn should be chest- or even neck-high by the Fourth of July.”
Knee High by the Fourth of July (State Nicknames III)
Growing up in the Midwest (the middle, western part of the United States), I remember people talking about how the corn (see photo) should be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” The idea behind the expression is that if the corn stalks (plants) are as high (tall) as your knees by the fourth of July, then farmers (people who grow plants professionally) will have a good year. If the corn is growing well, then the corn will be “knee high” by early July. (The Fourth of July is, as you may know, a national holiday in the U.S.)
This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 at 7:30 and is filed under Life in the United States.
Evansville (IN) Courier & Press
WELLS: One of best years for Tri-State farmers is dying on the vine
By Len Wells
Posted June 30, 2012 at 9:37 p.m.
I just knew this was going to be one of the best years ever for Tri-State grain farmers. For the most part, farmers were able to get into their fields early because of a mild winter and very favorable spring weather.
The adage that for a good crop, corn should be “knee high by the Fourth of July” was surpassed when corn was knee high by the fourth of June.