The early Puritans began this practice in response to the perception that corn was brazenly carrying on in a flagrant manner like the strumpets of old. The practice of castrating cattle, horses and other farm animals was extended to the plant kingdom on the basis of deeply rooted concerns that the corn might be enjoying wantonly pollinating other ears of corn in a capricious or disrespectful manner wherever the winds might choose to blow, in much the same way that wild oats had been steadily gaining a reputation towards.
In central New England as well as more isolated but none-the-less equally devoted areas, detasslers grew in both numbers as well as political influence. On the local level detasseling committees were set up, officials appointed and gangs of detasselers would roam the countryside prior to harvestime and would trim the errant yet robust ears of corn in order to enforce their strict moral code. These same crews would often be the same ones who would come along ina few weeks time to harvest the same ears or help with the threshing on other fields.
Trouble ensued when some of the more orthodox detasselers ventured into fields not their own and began to detassel ears of corn over the protests of dissenting farmers. Disputes broke out threats of violence were sometimes followed up by mysterious fires that would be set at night in the fields of those more progressively minded with regards to the detasseling issue.
At the same time powerful Puritan political coalitions were formed and laws passed in some districts where it was deemed more expedient to legislate the practice in under the auspices of the law rather than engaging in the somewhat risky practice of detasseling the corn of those who resisted such measures. The power of the detasseling movement reached its zenith during the 1730's with the passage of the "Retraction of Tassels Act" with levied a heavy surcharge on corn that had not been detasseled. Spreading from Massachusetts this Act grew to encompass Maryland, Delaware and large tracts of Pennsylvania most of New York and scattered sections of the Ohio Valley.
The detasseling movement was broadly supported by the English monarchy and became closely associated with allegiance to the homeland. With the growing friction between those more freely minded farmers who steadfastly refused to detassel their corn and those just as determined that it should be so, conflict was imminent. With the eventual victory of those colonists with a more independent vision both as to how to govern themselves as well as how to most properly grow corn the detasseling movement gradually fell into disfavor and out of standard practice where it had once reigned supreme. Where other crops where not as commonly raised as corn and their corrupting influence not as quickly felt however, scattered areas of detasseling hung on with surprising vigor well into the 20'th century with some actual areas of growth in the practice spreading through the central areas of the country not, as historically connected to the actual war with England at the time of the peak of the detasseling movement.
While the practice is largely ignored today one still finds the odd remnant averring the benefits of detasseling corn, promising all sorts of extravagant claims of increased yields, purer genetic stock or an avowed source of virgin corn. The practice is all but winked at today and is a favorite "inside" joke which old farmers like to try and test the knowledge of their city cousins or spring a practical joke on the neighbors who seem to have too much time on their hands.