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Letters from a Tree Pedler in 1894

When I was in my home town Milwaukee a while back, I discovered a nursery called Hawks Landscape.

The company, located in the city called Wauwatosa, right outside Milwaukee, has a long history.

It was founded in 1875 by Charles Hawks, Sr. and Theodore Ferguson.

It was the story of a tree pedler from Hawks who caught my attention.

The company sold plant stock (mostly fruit trees, shade trees, and shrubs) to farmers and area residents, as well as people in the newly forming cities of the Midwest.

B y the late 1800s, there were over two hundred Hawks sales representatives.

They traveled the country by horse, buggy, or rail in order to visit their customers once or twice a year.

A tree pedler manager from Hawkes wrote letters in 1894 about his work, often seeking to motivate other pedlers in their trade.

Some of the letters from this Hawks sales manager you can read on the Hawks Landscape website.

The Letters

On my visit the owner gave me zeroxed copies of some of the letters written by this manager/tree pedler from Hawks in 1894.

I read them, and enjoyed how the author sought to motivate his sales staff.

He writes, “By the time these lines reach the hundreds of my fellow Salesmen one-half of the present month will have passed away and very soon Father Time will usher in the Spring months.”

The month of the letter is February, dated the 12th, the year 1894.

The manager writes, “There is no time to waste. March and April are the only months between this date and Spring Delivery and the necessity of hundreds of homes – (barren of fruits and flowers) should make every Salesman alive and active that he may supply the farmers with much needed and choice nursery stock.”

“The young salesman…must not feel discouraged because four out of ten farmers do not buy his valuable trees.

“Many an Orator has wasted words on brainless crowds, many a preacher has cast pearls with only a few to appreciate their value.”

Keep in mind that “Many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

A constant theme in the letters is to keep the sales staff motivated.

It must have been a hard job to be a tree pedler.

The manager writes, “I sometimes am thoughtful about holding the baby while a mother holds my attractive nursery catalogue.”

Who knows? You could wind up with a sale.

Before and After

In the 1870s the M. V. Johnson Nursery from Ohio included this illustration in their tree pedler’s book.

Notice the dramatic change when you plant the latest and newest in a long-neglected home landscape. [below]

1870, M. V. Johnston Nursery
[Courtesy of the Newton Historical Society.]
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