Jerome Irving Rodale

Jerome Irving Rodale, was a Jewish playwright, editor, author and publisher. He was one of the first advocates of a return to sustainable agriculture and organic farming in the United States. He founded a publishing empire, founded several magazines, and published many books, his own and those of others, on health. He also published works, including The Synonym Finder, on a wide variety of other topics. Rodale popularized the term “organic” to mean grown without pesticides.

If you ever wanted to know about a subject, start a magazine about it.

Jerome Irving Rodale, 1898-1971

Jerome Irving Rodale was born in New York City, the son of a grocer, and he grew up on the Lower East Side. His birth name was Cohen, but he changed it to a non-Jewish one after thinking it would be a handicap in business. He married Anna Andrews in 1927, and had three children: Robert David Rodale, Nina Rodale who married Robert Hale Horstman, and then Arthur Houghton, and Ruth Rodale.

Rodale had an interest in promoting a healthy and active lifestyle that emphasized organically grown foods, inspired by his encounter with the ideas of Albert Howard.

He founded Rodale Inc. in 1930 in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. He was the was founder of Rodale Press and publisher of Organic Farming and Gardening magazine starting in 1942. Organic Farming and Gardening promoted organic horticulture; later retitled Organic Gardening, it is the most-read gardening periodical worldwide. To Rodale, agriculture and health were inseparable. Healthy soil required compost and eschewing poisonous pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Eating plants grown in such soil would then help humans stay healthier, he expounded.

One of Rodale’s most successful projects was Prevention Magazine, founded in 1950, which promotes preventing disease rather than trying to cure it later. For decades it has been a leading source of information for those in North America interested in alternative health, including before the natural foods movement became popular in the late 1960s. It pioneered the return to whole grains, unrefined sweets, using little fat in food preparation, seldom eating animal products, folk cures, herbal medicines, and breastfeeding. It also promoted consuming more than typical amounts of nutritional supplements, and forgoing nicotine and caffeine.

Rodale died of a heart attack at the age of 72 while participating as a guest on The Dick Cavett Show. He was still on stage, having finished his interview, and was seated next to the active interviewee, New York Post columnist Pete Hamill. According to Cavett, Hamill noticed something was wrong with Rodale, leaned over to Cavett and said, “This looks bad.” According to others, Cavett asked, “Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?”, which Cavett “emphatically” doesn’t recall. The episode was never broadcast, although Cavett has described the story in public appearances.

Ironically, Rodale had bragged during his just-completed interview on the show that “I’m in such good health that I fell down a long flight of stairs yesterday and I laughed all the way”, “I’ve decided to live to be a hundred”, as well as “I never felt better in my life!” He had also previously bragged that “I’m going to live to be 100, unless I’m run down by some sugar-crazed taxi driver.”