The first domestication of soybeans apparently occurred in the eleventh century in northern China. Accounts indicate that soybeans were shipped out of China and to France as early as 1740. There are also accounts that soybean seeds were planted by a colonist in the British colony of Georgia as early as 1765. However, soybean seeds were not distributed to farms until 1851 when farmers in Illinois and the corn belt states were gifted the beans from a crew member that almost drowned on a Japanese fishing boat.
It was in 1870 when farmers started raising the soybeans for use as forage for livestock. The United States Department of Agriculture started testing soybeans and encouraging farmers to plant them around the turn of the century. Even Henry Ford got in on the soybeans we he used them for plastic on some of his earliest cars.
But World War II was the time that soybeans in the United States finally became a staple. Until that time, China was still the main producer of soybeans. However, due to internal fighting and the war, China was no longer supplying the US with the beans. Of course, soybeans were important not just to feed animals, but also to build the machines of war. United States farmers stepped up to the plate and started producing the crop.
Today in the United States, 31 states have soybean production, with Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota leading the pack. The United States is the world’s leader in soybean production. Brazil and Argentina are also major growers of the commodity.