Marsden Hoag “Bill” Simmons (1911–1974)

Marsden Hoag (M. H.) Simmons, who went by “Bill,” was a leader in the Arkansas poultry industry, starting the company in Arkansas now known as Simmons Foods.

Bill Simmons was born in Edison, Nebraska, on June 11, 1911, to Leveret Bernard Simmons and Flora Lee Hoag Simmons, who were married in about 1905 and had known each other from childhood. The family had three children.

After years of work as a manager with the Cudahy Packing Company in Nebraska, Simmons joined poultry industry entrepreneur Frank Pluss in 1949 in establishing Pluss Poultry in Decatur (Benton County). A key attraction in Decatur was a defunct chicken processing plant, which Pluss and Simmons purchased from Lloyd Peterson. Like Simmons, Peterson would become a leading figure in the state and national poultry industries.

Simmons married Mazzine Babcock, and they had four children.

The Pluss Poultry company began operating out of a renovated two-story hotel. Despite difficulties stemming from the lack of a municipal sewage system and a labor strike in June 1951, this small company established an enduring business relationship with the Safeway grocery store chain.

In 1951, the residents of Siloam Springs (Benton County), a city about thirteen miles south of Decatur, raised nearly $20,000 to help Pluss Poultry move there. The business’s formal opening in June 1952 coincided with the Silver Strike Jubilee, a town-boosting event that brought thousands of visitors to Siloam Springs and was highlighted in a short documentary film, A Future to Share, which was broadcast in theaters across the country. The film’s purpose was to promote industrial and economic growth in northwestern Benton County, primarily Siloam Springs.

Simmons quickly became involved in the life of Siloam Springs. He served as president of the town’s chamber of commerce and on the boards of John Brown University (JBU) and the public high school. In later years, Simmons served with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, co-founded the Arkansas State Bank (now Centennial Bank in Siloam Springs), and played a central role in expanding the capacity of the city airport, then near the JBU campus.

In 1955, Simmons purchased Frank Pluss’s shares of the company, becoming its sole owner. Three years later, he changed the business’s name to Plus Poultry, partly to capitalize on the word “plus”—at the time a marketing buzzword. “The PLUS in our product,” said one advertisement in 1959, “puts the PLUS in your purse.”

Simmons rapidly ascended in the poultry industry in the later part of the 1950s, holding top positions within the Arkansas Poultry Federation, the National Broiler Council, and the National Poultry, Butter and Egg Association.

As a key leader within the Institute of American Poultry Industries, Simmons was among a small number of American poultry producers who personally marketed U.S. chicken in western Europe, while also providing advice to the region’s industry. When the European Economic Community raised unanticipated trade barriers against U.S. chicken in 1962, Simmons became a leader in the movement to have those barriers removed. This work involved correspondence and collaboration with U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright and Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman, among others. At the height of the “Chicken War,” Simmons was featured in Life magazine. His efforts on behalf of poultry exports were publicly recognized by the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

A person of immense energy, Simmons was considered not only a man of business but, perhaps more, as a man of business ideas. He was a leader in the production and marketing of frozen chicken, about which much skepticism existed in the 1950s. He was an early adopter of clear plastic wrapping, believing customers wanted to see what they were buying. He was a creative in-store marketer and an early proponent of pairing company agents with grocers to assist with sales. He test-marketed interest in chicken rolls and chicken hotdogs. For Asian markets, he investigated products using chicken feet, and he was among the first American poultry producers to market U.S. chicken in Japan. He also experimented with alfalfa for cattle feed.

At one point in the early 1960s, Simmons owned or had a substantial interest in more than twenty distinct companies, the large majority linked to poultry but others involving cattle and insurance. In 1963, Simmons initiated the production of Bolo dogfood, which inaugurated his company’s relationship with Walmart. He set up Siloam Springs’ first computers in Plus Poultry’s main office.

Through the 1960s, Simmons struggled with problems of the cardiovascular system. By the end of the decade, it was difficult for him to manage Plus Poultry, which in 1973 would be renamed Simmons Industries. During this period, his son, Mark Simmons, gradually moved into the company’s leading role.

Bill Simmons died on August 31, 1974, and is buried in Siloam Springs’ Oak Hill Cemetery.

For additional information:
“Businessman Dies at 62; Cited by JFK.” Arkansas Gazette, September 1, 1974, p. 22A.

Jones, Preston. Uncommon Common Man: M. H. “Bill” Simmons & the Development of the Poultry Industry in Northwest Arkansas, 1949–1974. Pittsburgh, PA: Dorrance Publishing, 2024.

Preston Jones
John Brown University


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