A Snapshot of Pennsylvania’s Apple History

  • iStock_000017991424_MediumWhen the colonists first arrived, the only apple variety that was native to America was the Sour Crab apple. Considered a stable commodity because they kept well on ships, apples were shipped from Europe to America during the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • During the 1720s, John Bartram, an early American botanist, horticulturalist, and explorer, established the first botanical gardens in America along the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania, facilitating the cultivation of different apple varieties.
  • In 1759, Benjamin Franklin first began growing the apple, Newton Pippins, from seeds – and later by grafting branches onto other trees. He inspired the founding of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture in 1785, which led to the formation of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 1827. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is believed to be the first horticulture society in the country.
  • As the colonists began talking of independence from Britain, farmers began making concentrated efforts to expand the varieties of apples available in the colonies, including Pennsylvania.
  • By the 19th century, commercial apple orchards were a popular source of income for Pennsylvania farmers; and, in 1889 the State Horticulture Association of Pennsylvania reported that 54 different apple varieties were being commercially produced in the state.
  • From 1875-1879 the apple exports to Europe from Pennsylvania and the surrounding regions had quadrupled. The expansion of commercial shipping – both by water and rail – contributed to the rapid growth of the Pennsylvania apple industry. More efficient modes of transportation opened new markets for apple growers both domestic and abroad.
  • The first part of the 20th century found that most apple production was occurring in the eastern part of the country. In fact, almost every farm had apple trees for personal use.
  • Beginning in 1964 through the present, there has been much advancement in the production of apples in the form of new equipment development, growth regulating chemicals, and improved training techniques. There has also been significant changes in tree form and orchard design, with smaller trees being more closely spaced and intensively managed.

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