Seedsmen Hall of Fame
Honoring Horticulturalists

Calvin N. Keeney

When it comes to the improvement of beans, one of the most important seedsmen of the twentieth century was Calvin N. Keeney.  Prior to his work, green beans as we know them and eat them today, did not exist.  Predecessors of the modern stringless beans tended to be tough and fibrous.

Calvin N. Keeney was born in Le Roy, New York in February 6, 1849.  He was educated at Le Roy Academy and at the age of eighteen years, began assisting his father in his business,

His father, Nicholas Keeney was a successful farmer.  During the Civil War, while engaged in the produce business, he found that there was a good trade in beans, peas and other commodities.  Growing up on the family farm, Calvin became interested in the varieties of beans available.  He began formally observing their behavior in the field and by means of selection, he began experimenting to improve them.[1] 

Father and son continued to diversify their business activities eventually expanding to over 6,000 acres planted in peas and beans.  Calvin was admitted as partner in the business in 1870 and the firm was renamed N. B. Keeney and Son. They grew produce but specialized in seeds, peas and beans.  It was his work with beans that earned Calvin the title of the, "father of the stringless bean."[2] 

In 1880 he married Charlotte, daughter of Rev. Dr. A. S. Freeman of Haverstraw, New York and they had two children, Ruth Mary and Charlotte Freeman.

Between 1884 and 1911, Mr. Keeney developed nineteen varieties of snap beans.  His work gained a broader audience when W. Atlee Burpee Seed commercially released their 'Burpee Stringless Green Pod' in 1894.  It was the first of many varieties that Keeney developed.  Some of his introductions were:

  • Pencil Bod Black Wax (1900)

  • Brittle Wax (1900)

  • Fordhook Favorite

  • Keeney's Rustless Golden Wax

  • Wardwell's Kidney Wax

  • Giant Stringless Green Pod (Introduced by Johnson & Stokes in 1898)

  • Surecrop Stringless Wax

  • Burpee's Stringless White Wax

Calvin's father passed away at midnight on September 6, 1905.[2]  He was nearly 85 years old.  Calvin continued to diversify and grow his business holdings.  Along with his seed and agricultural ventures, he eventually owned quarries, warehouses, and even a lumbering business.  He additionally held officer or executive positions with the LeRoy Canning Company, the LeRoy Plow Company, the LeRoy National Bank and the LeRoy Salt Company.

As age advanced, and with no male heirs, he incorporated the business in 1923 and in his own words, he said, "I turned it over to the boys (employees) who have helped me build it up."  In the fall of 1927, he merged with several other seed companies to form Associated Seed Growers, Inc., (ASGROW).  Calvin Keeney passed away in 1930.


Sources:

  1. "Plant Breeding," page 247, Liberty Hyde Bailey, 1895
  2. Canner / Packer, Volume 60, Published by Triad Publishing 1925
  3. "Gazetteer and Biographical Record of Genesee County, N.Y., 1788-1890," page 508, edited by F. W. Beers, 1890
  4. "Gardening with brains: fifty years' experiences of a horticultural epicure," page 247, by Henry Theophilus Finck, 1922
  5. Obituary of Nicholas B. Keeney,
  6. "Bean Sorting" by Elaine Belluscio, Le Roy Pennysaver & News, August 15, 2010

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