If you’ve ever been enrolled in the Fruit-of-the-Month Club or gotten a Tower of Treats as a gift, you’re probably familiar with the names Harry and David, but don’t know much about them. Are they real people? Do they have last names?
Harry and David Holmes were indeed real people, and the story of their fruit business starts with their father, Samuel Rosenberg. Sam was a successful hotelier in Washington state with a passion for agriculture. In 1910, he sold his Hotel Sorrento in Seattle and purchased 240 acres of pear orchards along the Bear Creek in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. When Sam died in 1914, his sons, who both had his green thumb and graduated from Cornell University’s school of agriculture, took over the Bear Creek Orchards.
The brothers marketed their Comice pears, which they dubbed "Royal Riviera,” as luxury items on the East Coast and in Europe throughout the 1920s, but struggled when fruit prices plummeted during the Great Depression. Desperate to find new buyers, the brothers went on two promotional trips to New York and San Francisco to court would-be corporate clients. No one was biting in New York City, and the 15 boxes of unripened pears they had brought with them sat untouched in their hotel room for a week. Not wanting the fruit to go to waste, they took a suggestion from an advertising executive that they’d met and had the pears delivered, along with a hand-written letter on their hotel stationery, as free samples to business tycoons and captains of industry around town.
Orders soon came rolling in. Businesses wanted to do what the brothers had done, and send gift boxes of Royal Rivieras and other fruits to their own clients and important customers. Mail-order fruits and other gift packages soon became a big part of their business.
Bear Creek boomed, and expanded as the brothers bought up land from other struggling growers through the 1930s. In the next decade, World War II was a hurdle and a boon. The brothers had to change their last name to Holmes to counter anti-Semitic boycotts of their products in Germany and Nazi-controlled countries, but overcame the war-time labor shortage by using German POWs at a nearby army camp to harvest their crops.
David died in 1950 and Harry in 1959. They passed the business on to their sons, who kept it a private, family-owned company until 1976. In early 2011 the company, struggling with debt and decreasing sales, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and emerged from that protection later that year.
Primary image via Oregon Encyclopedia.