Gill Bros. Seed Co.
by Mike Dunton
family farmed land east of downtown Portland, Oregon. Brothers
Edward E. and Ray W. raised vegetables and flowers which
then hauled, using horse and wagon, into the Portland market.
1914 was a momentous year. It
witnessed the outbreak of World War I, Edward married widower Madge
Williams, and the brothers decided to cease market growing activities to
concentrate on the business of selling seeds.
Their big old barn was made into an office and
seed room, and a large field west of the farmhouse was planted with dahlia
bulbs. The business grew and soon they began
publishing a mail-order catalog.
Edward's step-daughter Marcella began stuffing catalogs for five cents an
Brother's Seed Company eventually became the primary
source of regionally appropriate seeds for many Pacific Northwest
gardeners. My ancestors were among those Gill customers. As a
matter of fact, we still raise and offer seeds for an old Gill release, 'Sweet
Meat' squash. Our stock traces its roots directly back to Gill's
as it was a favorite of my mother's dad who faithfully provided space for
it in his annual garden.
What set them apart from most other seed
companies was the fact that from the beginning they were not simply a
reseller. They had their own trial grounds, production fields and
breeding programs. This is what led them to be in the position to
offer seed varieties so well suited from the region.
In the 1950s, The
Joseph Harris Company of
New York was in a rapid growing mode. Because a a lot of their seed
stock was being purchased from growers and brokers on the West Coast, they
decided to set up a field office. Then in a smart business move,
Harris purchased the Gill Bros. Seed Company in the early 1960s. This
gave them access to Gill's local production resources as well as a huge
mailing list of loyal customers.
Harris ended up dropping
much of the Gill seed line as they felt the local varieties were of little
value nationally. Then in the early 1980s,
Harris merged with Moran
Seed (Salinas Valley, CA) and shortly thereafter, they closed the Portland
office and along with it, the final chapter of the Gill Bros. Seed