Category Archives: Horticulture History

The history of a plant or plants.

How Did A Tomato Get a Name like ‘Mortgage Lifter”

Developed in the hills of Logan West Virginia in the 1930s by Marshall Cletis (M.C.) Byles, better known as “Radiator Charlie.”  He started working at the age of 4 picking cotton and never went to a day of school in his life – but he showed true American ingenuity. He tinkered with cars, farm equipment, and tomatoes and it shows in his Mortgage Lifter Tomato. Developed in the 1930s by a gardener who planted the four biggest varieties he knew and crossed one with pollen from the other three. He simply crossed German Johnson, Beefsteak, Italian and English varieties and sold the re-selected plants He did this for six seasons and created a variety that produced immense, tasty fruit. He sold the plants for a $1 apiece and paid off his $6000 mortgage in 6 years.

Although many varieties by plant merchants are called “Mortgage Lifter”. ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter’ is probably the most well-known of all the “mortgage lifter” varieties, Fruits that are large, over a pound each, pink in color, and one of the best-flavored beefsteaks available.

See Also ‘Halladay’s Mortgage Lifter’, ‘Pale Leaf Mortgage Lifter’, and ‘Red Mortgage Lifter’ tomatoes.

Who Was The Snowflake Man

The man to become known as “snowflake” was born on February 9, 1865, in a small town in Vermont called Jericho. At this time, the Union was making many changes, as the Civil War had ended the country was beginning to switch to a peaceful nation. Not only was the country beginning to expand west but enlarging the technology used in war for peacetime use. New fields of science were beginning to arise, of which this man became keenly interested. Meteorology and water crystals or snow which Vermont had plenty of was of great curiosity.

He started to sketch the many snowflakes however it was difficult as they were complex and their life span as short as they are fleeting and they either melted or sublimated into the air. At the age of ten (10) his mother gave him a microscope which helped but it was only after he adds a bellow camera that could he capture the beauty of snowflakes. He captured his first picture on a glass plate on January 15, 1885. As photography was a new field expanded by the Civil War, at this time pictures were taken on glass plates. His knowledge was with the leading edge to only Photography but Meteorology.  

In his lifetime he photographed some 5,000 images as he produced several books his reputation became more known. He once said that no two snowflakes were alike. His collection of images is located is in the Historical Society in his hometown of Jericho Vermont. A portion of his glass plates is in the Buffalo Museum of science.

On December 23, 1931, he died of pneumonia after walking six miles home in the snow. In his life, he worked with both George Henry Perkins and William J. Humphreys of the Natural history and the Weather Bureau. They produced and published a book with about 2,000 of his pictures. This book today is the baseline for images of snowflakes.

Who was this man known as Mister Snowflake,  he was Wilson A. Bentley, (1865 – 1931) a man known by his peers as a man ahead of his time.


Learn Who The Man That Put Science into Farming

In 1842 a boy was born in Boston to a family descendant of some of the first Puritans to arrive in Massachusetts. In his early years his family moved to Philadelphia were after a short time his parents both died. His Aunt became his guardian and moved him back to Winthrop, Maine birthplace of his father.

His primary school days were finished in New Jersey. Subsequently he went Blue Hills Maine, to prepare for college. In 1859, he entered Bowdoin College where he remained until 1861, when he joined the Union Army. Because of his education and being able to read and write Greek, Latin, French and German he became First Lieutenant of Company G, 74th Regiment of Maine Volunteers. Later he attained the rank of Captain. He was stationed on the lower Mississippi in the siege of Port Huron. It was in 1883 thar he contracted typhoid malaria. It was so severe that he was sent home ending his military career.

Ken Wilson

Upon returning home he completed courses from Harvard Medical School, and he received a medical degree in 1866, to which he never begins practice and never followed the medical profession.

In 1876 he reunited with his three brothers E. Lewis, Joseph N, and Thomas to establish a farm to be known as “Wauchakum Farm” in South Framingham Massachusetts, where his father was born. He began and established a foundation and library greater than any other private collection. It was here he started the studies of cultivated plants.

It was at this time he started a prolific writing vocation, which over time massed many papers on agriculture. One of the first that was produced was in connection with his brothers about the physiology of milk and milk secretion in various breeds of cattle. There is an outstanding number of articles in late 1860 and early 1870 that bear his name. One of his publication is on Ayrshire cattle by the brothers in 1875. They also helped establish the North American Ayrshire Register published by the brothers.

Another study on the farm from the first was with Indian corn, which produced a Yellow Flint variety they called “Waushakum” that would produce 125 bushel per acre, an outstanding accomplishment at that time. The breeding and other practical work and scientific thinking brought him great acceptance with his fellow farmers.

In an 1894 bulletin for the Torrey Botanical Society, he writes of 800 varieties of corn and their scientific nomenclature.  They were placed in groups establishing the nomenclature for Indian corn.

On the Waushakum Farm in 1875 established the first lysimeter. This measured the percolation of water into the soil.

He was known for his curiosity and experiments also the documentation and writing of them in a scientific manner in which he wrote them. This also gave many opportunities for him to talk and lecture about his experiments.

In 1882 his scientific approach to problems and experiments lead the board of Control of New York State Agricultural Experiment Station to select him as the Director of the New station. He left the farm also because one of his brothers had passed away.

He now devoted all his energies to scientific research at the station. Here he spent from July 1882 until March 1887 delving into things that would scientifically help the farmer. he had the scientific approach on the Farm Waushakum. The Board of Directors had no clue as to what the Research station was to accomplish, so they let him do what he thought was correct. The critics no matter what he attamed found something wrong. If it was done in agriculture, he was going to investigate it.  He used as his guide these three words “discover, verify and disseminate.”

In these five years all that he could find of cultivated plants and evaluate them also locating them in their native origins and their value in the native lands where they originated.

He then through articles lectures and notes he gave back to the American people his findings. There are some 500 titles and notes in the Library of the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis.

He met his end by a bout of grippe. For three years fighting it off in California. Today this would be called flu.

Of his personal life, he married in 1964 having 2 Boys and 2 girls. His oldest daughter did some of the drawings on several of his articles. His first wife died in1875 and in 1883 he marries again having another son.

Who was this Great prolific individual?  He was “Dr. E Lewis Sturtevant”.

The Man Who Bred Big Boy Tomatoes

The Man Who Bred Big Boy Tomatoes

Ken Wilson

In 1915 a man was born in Ein Ganeem that was later to become Israel that would change gardening in the United States and the world. He attended The Hebrew University before coming to live in the United States in 1936. He obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkley, later his doctorate in plant breeding at Cornell.

In 1942 he went to work for Atlee Burpee & Company in Warminster, Pa.; one of the largest seed companies dealing with the home gardener in mind. For eight (8) years he bred many varieties of vegetables. Among them are cucumbers, eggplants, muskmelons, and watermelons. However, his best accomplishment was in tomatoes. Until this time tomatoes had vines fifteen (15) feet in height. This meant a lot of staking and tying to support systems, which meant a lot for time for the home gardener.

He did most of his work establishing inbred lines that would become the perfect parents for the perfect tomato, a lifetime breeding. It was becoming evident that good parents make great children. In inbred lines, the parents are usually weaker and smaller, but when bred to gather the offspring are stronger and better (hybrid Vigor).

In 1948 he produced a tomato that was called Big Boy it was shorter than other varieties at the time. The fruit was a dark red round and about sixteen (16) ounces. It later made it into the Guinness book of records as producing the most tomatoes in one year. This tomato made it easier for home Gardeners to grow tomatoes. It was one of the first hybrids during and after the war.

When Israel was established, (1947) he went back to his home country work at Weitzman Institute of Science in Rehovot, His work was with plants to produce plastics and syncretic fuels. One of these plants was the Castor Bean.

In 1958 he came back to the United States to work at Rutgers University working on his seed collection and a lifetime dream of a new squash.  He thought it to be a crop equal to corn or rice. At 88 he retired and at 89 died living a trail of any new plant accomplishments. Who was this man, Ovid Shifriss


Ken Wilson

Ken Wilson

These two common garden varieties of plants seem to be strange equals. Yet we must look back to 1830 when a man was born in Rutland a small town in Tinwell England. He started off his professional life as a solicitor or in America he would be known as a (Lawyer). His interests turned towards horticulture or plant husbandry as it was called then. He started corresponding with Charles Darwin as his fascination with how more precisely plants passed on certain traits to their offspring. By 1858 at the age of 28, he was breeding Peas at a place called St. Mary’s Hill in Stamford. As his creations increased so did his corresponded to Charles Darwin about his outcomes. Darwin made several notations about his thoughts and commented about them several times in his (Darwin’s Notes)

In his breeding process, he used the scientific process and accurately noted all parent’s attributes and how they followed through to their progeny. He first perceived a concept that later has been recognized as hybrid vigor. He watched closely the susceptibility of first-generation and second-generation plants to disease and their resistance to their American counterparts added to their lineage. He bred and back bred to gain the best traits of the American varieties into common English varieties.

He did this without the knowledge of Mendel who in Germany was secluded in a monastery and whose works would later be published. His motivation was to improve varieties, not how genetics worked as did Mendel.

He moved his operation to Bedfordhigh Street in 1872 and began breeding strawberries of which he produced several new varieties including the Royal Sovereign strawberry. He also developed the Superb and Lawton’s Fortune apples.

This gentleman and his sons and grandsons produced many varieties of peas that they sold through there store. Along with strawberries, currants and apples. His death was in 1893 but his works live on in one variety of heirloom peas.

His name was Thomas Laxton (1830-1893), the pea is the “Laxton Pea”, the strawberry “Royal Sovereign.”

Thomas Laxton is considered the greatest pea breeder ever, and this century-old variety is his masterpiece. Try it and see why.



This entry was posted in Horticulture HistoryOld and True VarietiesVegetables and tagged Charles DarwinMendelpeasStrawberries on November 8, 2019, by Ken WilsonEdit