Oscar H. Will SHSND#0029-001There were several “seedsmen” (and at least one woman) in North Dakota in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries. The most outstanding of these horticultural entrepreneurs was Oscar H. Will.
Will came to Dakota Territory in 1881 from New York, where he had already gained some nursery experience. He went to work for E. M. Fuller’s Bismarck Greenhouse and Nurseries as foreman. Fuller produced a four-page annual catalog that contained mostly flowers, fruit trees, and a limited selection of vegetable plants (not seeds.) In 1885, the catalog announced the transfer of the business, stock, fixtures, and good will to Oscar H. Will for a period of four years. Will’s influence can be seen in the 1885 catalog. Will introduced himself to the readers with his first annual essay in the nine-page catalog. It featured “well-grown House, Bedding and Vegetable Plants, Fruit and Ornamental Trees . . .” and vegetable seeds.
Will aggressively expanded his business and sought mail order customers. His annual essays explained his business philosophy, the sources of some of his own vegetable varieties, and his outlook on the world. In the 1885 catalog, Will described the nature of his nursery business:
Some may ask why I can sell seeds cheaper than other houses. The reasons are as follows: First – I raise many of my seeds, and the balance I purchase direct from reliable growers. Second – I have no heavy expense of store rent and labor, doing my work with very little help. Third – I do not spend thousands of dollars for flaming posters and catalogues (which the people know full well who has to pay for ) but simply tell them in this modest little catalogues what I have for sale.