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Seed Catalogs Became Early Form of Advertising

A while back I attended an all-day workshop sponsored by the New England Garden History Society.  The day amounted to listening to a  series of speakers, something I love.

Thomas A. Woods, former director at Old World Wisconsin and author of the book Knights of the Plowwas one of the speakers. His topic was “American Kitchen Gardening Traditions”.

Old World Wisconsin, one of the largest outdoor museums in America, includes 576 acres and features the gardens of  fourteen ethnic groups.

Of course my ears perked up when Mr. Woods mentioned the seed companies of the nineteenth century.

Woods said, “Nineteenth century seed catalogs became one of the first expressions of advertising.”

German immigrants flocked to Wisconsin in the nineteenth century. During most of that period Milwaukee had become a mecca of German culture in America. Breweries like Pabst gave Milwaukee its reputation as the home of the beer barons.

Rochester Seedsman Jame Vick (1818-1882)  became popular with German gardeners since he advertised in German American newspapers. He had a special floor in his seed house for German orders.

Woods said, “The availability of seeds  through catalogs and advertising encouraged and accelerated the trend of gardening with flowers and vegetables.”

Not only did the seed companies sell seeds, they also promoted a style of gardening, which was often the English fashion.

Wisconsin gardens tended to take on the same style because catalogs, like Vick’s, proposed the kinds of plants to use but also the style for American gardens, which resembled that of the current Victorian fashion.


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