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MailTribune.com
  • Pear Necessities

    Harry and David Rosenberg start world's first Fruit of the Month Club
  • If someone keeps pushing fruit into your mailbox, you can thank the Harry & David boys.
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  • If someone keeps pushing fruit into your mailbox, you can thank the Harry & David boys.
    Probably the best known mail-order company in the world, Harry & David had its roots in Washington's apple country. Samuel Rosenberg arrived in Seattle around 1886. The 27-year-old became a partner with his uncle-by-marriage, Lazarus Kline, and almost immediately took over operation of his profitable clothing business.
    In fall 1888, this "leading clothier of the city" married Anna Lapworth. David, their first child, was born in August 1889, followed by his brother, Harry, in May 1891.
    By 1904, Anna and Samuel divorced. Samuel remarried almost immediately, but Anna waited until 1906, when she married John Robert Holmes, a real-estate broker who accepted her boys as stepsons.
    Samuel Rosenberg paid $300,000 in 1910 for the 240-acre Bear Creek Orchard in Jackson County and incorporated the Bear Creek Co.
    Harry and David went off to Cornell University, while Rosenberg commuted between Seattle, where he spent the winters, and Medford, where he supervised the orchard each summer.
    In October 1916, Sam Rosenberg died of pneumonia at Medford's Sacred Heart Hospital. The brothers were awarded their father's orchard and packing house.
    They steadily increased their business during the 1920s, putting their faith in the Comice pear. They bought more orchards, and through eastern brokers they sold their fruit to affluent European homes and hotels, where the pears were considered an elegant dessert.
    The 1929 stock market crash left a worldwide depression and overseas markets dried up. Harry and David struggled to find new ways to sell fruit.
    In 1934, Harry went to New York City with 15 boxes of his pears, hoping to interest some fruit brokers. When no one cared, he contacted an advertising agency, which suggested he box some of the pears and send them to a few influential New Yorkers. Within a few days, Harry had orders for 467 gift boxes, and a new marketing strategy was born.
    Two years later, an advertisement appeared in Fortune Magazine. There was a picture of the two sophisticated boys, dressed down like rubes in flannel shirts, offering to sell pears and deliver them by Christmas.
    "Imagine Harry and Me advertising our PEARS in Fortune!" read David's copy. "Imagine," he said, "pears that sell for 85 cents each in Europe, for just $1.89 for 10 pounds; and $2.95 for the 20-pound 'Family' box, with postage included."
    Soon the boys were selling year-round with the world's first "Fruit of the Month Club."
    Just before World War II, anti-Semitic boycotts in Germany cut into the brothers' profits. In response they legally changed their last name from Rosenberg to Holmes, honoring their stepfather.
    Following the war, business blossomed, but the family company gradually became part of several large corporations.
    David Holmes died in a 1950 automobile accident on his way to a business meeting in San Francisco. For nearly a decade, Harry suffered a heart condition, and he died in 1959.
    From their Jackson County plant along the Pacific Highway, the boys had invented a very tasty industry.
    Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com
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