Merle Hunter Collins was born on October 5, 1878 to the Reverend Josephus Collins and his wife Jane, in Orion, Illinois. In 1882 his family moved to Kansas, but during the Oklahoma land rush of the 1890s, they moved again, in 1896, to Kingfisher, Oklahoma. In 1904, Merle married Faith Andrews of Kansas. The couple had only one child, Arthur Andrews Collins, who was born in 1909.
Collins was a successful businessman and land investor in Oklahoma, and Eastern investors encouraged him to establish a new business venture in Iowa. Collins moved his family to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and formed the Collins Mortgage Company, with the Collins Farms Company being founded in 1928.
After the failures of his own companies, Collins joined the executive board of his son Arthur's Collins Radio Company, where he became vice-president of the corporation. Merle Collins died at the age of 64 on April 2, 1943.
Merle H. Collins founded the Collins Mortgage Company in 1916 after moving with his family from Oklahoma to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The company specialized in farm loans, and grew over the years to be quite profitable. The CMC operated in Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.
Beginning in 1925, Collins began acquiring a number of idle farms (farms abandoned after mortgage foreclosures) and using them as platforms for the implementation of new farming and land utilization techniques. His success in this initial endeavor led Collins to form the Collins Farms Company in 1928, with himself as president. By 1931 the CFC owned and occupied nearly 30,000 acres across 39 Iowa counties.
Unfortunately for Collins (as for many others, of course), in 1929 the stock market crashed, causing a worldwide economic depression. Poor economic conditions affected the Collins Companies as well, but the immediate causes of their decline were due to their connections with other financial institutions. CMC had been long associated with Equitable Life Assurance Company of New York (arranging and selling farm mortgages to the firm), and in Iowa was working closely with the Cedar Rapids National Bank on many loans. In October of 1931, federal bank examiners, investigating CRNB, found that nearly 1/10th of the bank's assets constituted second mortgages tied to CMC. Eastern firms, such as Equitable, traditionally refused to handle these types of mortgages. Although Equitable was pressed by federal examiners to advance $810,000 to CRNB, the bank still faced a large write-off and its solvency was threatened. On October 29, 1931, CRNB merged with and was taken over by Merchants National Bank.
Collins continued to struggle with Merchants, and eventually with Equitable over the future of his mortgages and farmlands. In July 1932, Equitable filed a farm foreclosure suit for $10,000 against the Collins Companies in the Winnebago County, Iowa District Court. Collins countersued for over $1.5 million in commissions on mortgage loans and then followed it up with a second suit for $1.3 million. In February 1933, Equitable responded by suing Collins in federal court (both in Iowa's Northern District at Fort Dodge and the Southern at Des Moines) for over $3.5 million and sought foreclosure actions in 39 Iowa counties. In February 1934 the federal court in Fort Dodge appointed a receiver to take charge of the farms properties in question; many farms ended up being sold to individual farm operators to satisfy the claims of Equitable and Merchants National. In late 1934 Equitable and Collins agreed to settle, releasing each other from all existing claims (Collins and Merchants National reached a similar agreement.) Collins signed over all his remaining CMC and CFC properties to Equitable and to Merchants. Collins' assets were drastically reduced, though he was not wiped out, and he faced ongoing hostility from a number of people who had lost money from the failures of his companies and of CRNB.
Collins also operated another firm, a real estate and farms holding company, the Mississippi Valley Farms Company, that operated from 1932 until 1945.