Oscar H. Will arrived in Bismarck, Dakota Territory, in 1881 to serve as foreman at Fuller’s Greenhouse and Nursery. In 1884, he bought out his boss and went into business selling trees and horticultural materials under the name Oscar H. Will & Co.
Initially, Oscar’s crew collected millions of tree seedlings to meet the demands of tree-claim settlers and the railroad. By 1884, the company had obtained several varieties of corn from area farmers and Oscar’s American Indian friends, adding seed to the product line, much of which was sold through a mail-order catalog.
Oscar developed the Great Northern Bean from a handful of seed offered by Son of a Star, a Hidatsa Indian friend. The Great Northern is the most long-lived, commercially produced dry bean in the Great Plains and is still widely available at grocery stores.
During its 75-plus years of operation, the company introduced scores of new varieties, such as Pioneer White Dent and Early Dakota sweet corns. Mandan Winter squash, Arikara watermelon and Hidatsa red beans are but a few strains the company introduced.
Closed since 1959, the company lives on through the efforts of heirloom seed houses that still offer seeds originally introduced by Oscar H. Will & Co.
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