Sunday, April 9, 2017
1889 Philadelphia Seed Catalog - from lumber company to seed store
Henry Maule was born on April 14, 1828 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. & died in 1902. He took over the Philadelphia lumber company established by his father Caleb Maul (1790-1844). Henry's son William Henry Maule (1858-1913), took control of his grandfather's & father’s lumber & seed company in 1882, after partnering with his father for several years. When the father/son seed business originally began in 1877, it originally catered to market gardeners & farmers who supplied local consumers with their fresh vegetables. The world of seed publishing was fascinating to the young businessman & much of his energy went into expanding the seed & bulb end of the business, handing off the lumber-related duties to his brother Charles Price Maule (1856-1920). In 1885, W H Maule came up with the idea of publishing a colorful, beautifully illustrated catalog to showcase the vast variety & quality of his products. In 1889, Maule took it to the next level. Instead of appealing to the distribution of his product to dealers, he would target the common independent farmer, the gardening hobbyist, & anyone who had a mailbox could now become a potential lifelong customer. To entice the general public, Maule would include a packet of free samples with every catalog & offer cash prizes for the largest orders. William Henry Maule Co.'s catalogs often featured farm & field scenes. This idea skyrocketed the seed company into nationwide fame. Maule’s Seeds (later called the William Henry Maule Company) was the 1st in Philadelphia to use this business model & helped make the city into the seed capital of America, causing the spawn of at least a dozen similar outfits. (The Landreth Seed Company was the 1st large seed distributor, having set up shop at 12th & Market in 1784; Burpee Seeds, Maule’s contemporary & competitor, was founded in 1876.) By the time his father died in 1902, William Henry Maule had 560,000 regular customers, distributed over 5 million seed catalogs, given away more than 3 million seed packets, & awarded $30,000 in cash prizes. Over that time, the company had moved to larger & larger quarters. From a rented space on the Delaware riverfront in the 1880s, to a cast iron beauty at 1711 Filbert in the early 1890s, to a 7-story modern office building at 18th & Market at the turn of the 20th Century. The 18th & Market warehouse was named “Maule Building.” Maule eventually set his sights on building a much larger headquarters that would end the need to move every decade. In 1909, Maule acquired a string of properties on the 2100 block of Arch Street & spent the next few years working on what he hoped would be the William Henry Maule Company’s final home. This new $100,000 headquarters would not only house the company’s offices but also warehouse the immense variety of seeds, bulbs, & plants the Maule Company distributed across the country. It would have a footprint measuring 60′ x 111’8″ & rise 8 stories. Construction began in 1912 & was completed by the end of 1913. The building was quite prominent on the skyline at the time, as few other buildings in the immediate area matched its height. On September 6th, 1913, around the same time the new building was about to open, the 55-year-old William Henry Maule died from what was then known as a “stroke of apoplexy,” a term used at the time to describe any number of afflictions that appeared to cause sudden death. Once opened, the new Maule Building would continue William Henry Maule’s business model. New catalogs were published every year for the next 3 decades. Unfortunately, William Henry Maule’s dream of the entire operation running out of this one building didn’t last. By the end of the 1920s, the Maule Company moved out of the Maule Building & leased office & warehouse space at the Nicetown home of the W. A. Burpee Company, a competitor whose progenitor, W. Atlee Burpee, had partnered with William Henry Maule’s father, when the Maule Lumber Company 1st expanded to include seeds. Burpee had already surpassed the Maule Company’s success in 1915. In 1946, the Maule Company sold 2100 Arch Street for $145,000 & used the money to purchase a new office/warehouse in Clinton, Iowa, creating a second distribution point for all deliveries west of Ohio. Despite this major expansion, the company didn’t last. In 1947, the Maule Company merged with the W.A. Burpee Company, with whom they had already been collaborating for about a decade.