James Neville McArthur came to Florida as a young man with nothing but an education and a sterling reputation. Twenty-five years later, he had revolutionized the dairy industry in the Sunshine State, and his reputation remained untarnished. He was known and is remembered as an astute businessman, a forward-thinking innovator, and a philanthropist of uncommon vision, compassion, and generosity.
McArthur was born in 1893 on a farm in rural Mississippi. Although McArthur’s father could barely read or write, he was determined that all 10 of his children would be educated and go to college. After completing high school, McArthur enrolled at Mississippi State College in Starkville, where he graduated in 1916 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture.
After a stint in the Army during World War I, McArthur went back to school, attending the University of Florida and earning a second bachelor’s degree, this time in education. His education degree helped him land the position of principal at Miami’s Dade County Agricultural High School. In Miami McArthur found fulfillment in work that combined his two greatest loves: teaching and agriculture. He taught his students many practical skills, including how to run a dairy, how to bottle the milk, and how to market the end product.
In 1929 after eight years at the high school, McArthur found the opportunity to put his teaching into practice and established McArthur Jersey Dairy Farms. In the beginning the farm had just 20 cows, and McArthur was bottling the milk and selling it himself door to door. His only employees were a couple of friends who agreed to work for nothing more than food and a place to stay.
McArthur approached the operation of the farm with a kind of fearlessness, experimenting with new techniques and working his fingers to the bone. The hard work paid off. His herd grew to 5,000, then 10,000, and for a time the farm was one of the largest privately held and operated dairy farms in the world.
Throughout his lifetime, McArthur continued to improve and modernize his dairy. He made use of the latest science and technology and pioneered many new practices, including artificial insemination and the use of milking machines. He broke new ground in the management of large herds and in the application of the science of genetics. He opened a state-of-the-art milk-processing plant in 1951 and acquired a second plant in the 1970s. By introducing modern dairy farming practices and dairy processing technology, he helped Florida become the largest milk-producing state in the Southeast.
McArthur had established an enterprise that would serve as a prototype for other dairy operations in the region. Over the years many of his fellow dairymen sought his advice, and he was always eager to share his knowledge and expertise. McArthur took a leadership role in the Florida Dairy Producers Association and the Independent Dairy Producers Association, constantly pushing to improve the industry. He did everything in his power to enhance the image of Florida milk and milk products.
Despite all his success, McArthur never lost touch with his core values. He was a generous, very moral man who wanted to share the benefits of his success with others. Through the J.N. McArthur Foundation, he donated a million dollars to the University of Miami to build its School of Engineering. He built an athletic dormitory in memory of his father at the University of Mississippi and helped fund the construction of a new building for the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He funded the McArthur Hall of Science and Technology at Miami-Dade College and donated 40 acres so a new high school could be built in Broward County.
James Neville McArthur died in 1972, but his legacy lives on. The J.N. McArthur Foundation continues to fund education, and McArthur Farms, now 76 years old, remains one of Florida’s largest and most successful dairies, milking 8,500 cows.