Seedsmen Hall of Fame
Honoring Horticulturalists

Dexter Mason Ferry
by Mike Dunton

Dexter M. Ferry in 1890Dexter Mason Ferry was born in Lowville, New York on August 8, 1833 but after his father's passing when Dexter was but three years of age, he and his mother moved to Penfield, New York.  Dexter went attended school there and at the age of 16 began working on a farm.

In 1851 when he reached 18 years, he began working for a man named Ezra M. Parsons of Rochester, New York. Obviously Mr. Parsons saw something in the young man.  In a short time, in 1852, Parsons helped Dexter get a job as an errand boy for S .D. Elwood & Company, a stationery firm in Detroit, Michigan. There he was soon promoted first to salesman, and later to bookkeeper.[1]

With a formal education, experience as a laborer, and a firm understanding of various aspects of business under his belt, Mr. Ferry, along with two partners, Milo T. Gardner and Eber F. Church, founded Gardner, Ferry & Church on April 1, 1856.  Dexter was not quite 23 years old.[2]

Dexter M. Ferry in 1900The company's growth was slow  The first year, sales were only $6,000. [2]  In 1865, Ferry bought out Gardner and the company name was shortened to Ferry, Church & company.  Church retired in 1867 and Dexter again changed the name by dropping his ex-partner's name.[1]

Ferry was innovative in that he focused on quality and gained a reputation for selling superior seeds.  He chose to only sell fresh seed with tested high germination rates.

In 1879, Mr. Ferry absorbed the Detroit Seed Company and incorporated as D. M. Ferry & Co.  With a well picked executive management team, the company grew, released new varieties of vegetables, and thrived.

Dexter Mason "D. M." FerryHowever, disaster struck on New Years Day in 1886.  A fire demolished the company's warehouse with a loss then estimated at nearly $1,000,000.  Ruin was averted by Ferry's quick action.  They purchased seed stock and purchased and absorbed two smaller seed companies, and were ultimately able to fill their customer's orders.[3]

They rebuilt the company and constructed a new warehouse, and by 1890 were selling over $1,500,000 annually.  By the early 1900s, the company's sales were reportedly over $2,000,000 per year.  This was acheived through mail-order catalog sales as well as by supplying seed racks to 160,000 retail outlets.[3]

D. M. Ferry died on November 10, 1907.

The company merged with the California based seed company, C. C. Morse Company in 1930 to become the Ferry-Morse Seed Company.  They relocated to Kentucky in 1959.

In 1981, the Ferry-Morse Seed Company became part of France’s Groupe Limagrain.  According to the company, Groupe Limagrain is considered to be the largest breeder-producer of horticultural seed in the world. [6]


W.H. Dunton Painting for FerryAs an aside, and not necessarily significant to the D. M. Ferry Seed Company, is that an interesting connection to the Victory Seed Company exists.  In 1910, D. M. Ferry & Company commissioned W. Herbert ("Buck") Dunton (a distant cousin of Victory Seed Company's founder, Mike Dunton),  to paint "Settlers and Seeds".  Buck Dunton (1878-1936) was an important Western illustrator, painter, muralist, lithographer and his work is much sought after.


An early retail seed packet store display.  Photographs sent in by Sky May.

D. M. Ferry is credited with inventing the "commission box," which is a seed rack for retail display.  He was also one of the first to utilize brightly colored seed packets.

1882 Ferry Seed Catalog Cover
1882 Ferry Seed Catalog Cover

 

1942 Ferry-Morse Seed Catalog
1942 Ferry-Morse Seed Catalog


Sources:

  1. Clarence Monroe Burton; William Stocking; Gordon K. Miller, eds. (1922), The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Volume 3, The S. J. Clarke publishing company, pp. 8-12

  2. Compendium of History and Biography of the City of Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan, Henry Taylor & Co, 1908, p. 174-176

  3. Western Publishing and Engraving Co (1890), John Bersey, ed., Cyclopedia of Michigan: historical and biographical, Western publishing and engraving co., pp. 134 - 136

  4. Harris Moran Press Release - June 22, 1998

  5. Ferry-Morse® Seed Company History

  6. Limagrain.com - Our brands and companies

  7. Vilmorin Clause & Cie Subsidieries

  8. Rearview Mirror -- Ferry Avenue A Street of Dreams

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