Wetsel Seed Company Oral Histories, 1911-1990

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Summary Information

Repository:
Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University
Creator:
Wetsel, Nelson T.
Creator:
Thomas, Maxine
Creator:
Rennyson, David James
Title:
Wetsel Seed Company Oral Histories
Collection No.:
SdArch 1
Date:
1911-1990
Extent:
3 folders, 4 audiocassettes, 7 cds, .51 Cubic Feet
Language of the Material:
English
Abstract:
The Wetsel Seed Company Oral Histories, 1970-1990, is comprised of interview transcripts, audio recordings, a pamphlet, and background papers, documenting the history of the Wetsel Seed Company, of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Preferred Citation

[identification of item], [box #, folder #], Wetsel Seed Company Oral Histories, SdArch 1, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University.

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Bio/Historical Note

Wetsel Seed Company was founded in 1911 by Daniel M. Wetsel and his eldest son, Arnold W. Wetsel in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It was originally called D.M. Wetsel and Son, and was the Shenandoah Valley's first seed, feed and plant business. In 1915 it changed names to become Wetsel Seed Company, Inc. Daniel Wetsel was known to experiment and develop various seed products, notably those associated with corn and tomatoes. The business eventually developed mail order catalogs and truck delivery services, opened up additional stores in Waynesboro and developed a garden center. Wetsel Seed Company has involved four generations of family members, including Earl H., Robert E., Nelson T., and Thomas M. Wetsel. The company was purchased by BFG Supply Company in 2011.

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Scope and Content

The Wetsel Seed Company Oral Histories, 1970-1990, is comprised of interview transcripts, audio recordings, a pamphlet, and background papers, documenting the history of the Wetsel Seed Company, Inc. of Harrisonburg, Virginia, from its beginnings as the Shenandoah Valley's first seed/feed/plant business in 1911 to its status as a multi-state seed/plant/lawn-garden firm in 1971. It includes an interview with Nelson T. Wetsel, former president and consultant for the Wetsel Seed Company; an interview with Maxine Thomas, former employee (mostly in payroll accounting) at the Wetsel Seed Company in Harrisonburg, Va; a pamphlet, written by Russell Stultz, which gives a history of Wetsel Seed Company, Inc., from 1911 to 1971; and background papers written by interviewer, and JMU history undergraduate student, David James Rennyson.

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Arrangement

Materials are arranged chronologically.

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the James Madison University Special Collections Library to use this collection.

Acquisition Information

Collection was donated on April 23, 1990 by David James Rennyson.

Processing Information

Audiocassettes were transferred from original audiocassettes to MAMA-R 700MB gold cd-r using Tascam cc-222 mkII in 2006 by Cindy Minter. Audio was converted to mp3 and wav files on July 11, 2018 by Digital Projects Specialist, Kirsten Mlodynia of JMU Libraries Innovation Spaces and Services. Interviews were cataloged at the item level in 1994; The descriptive metadata was adapted to the Finding Aid in July 2019.

Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have been transferred to the James Madison University Special Collections Library. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library Reference Desk (library-special@jmu.edu).

Location

Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University

880 Madison DriveMSC 1704Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807library-special@jmu.eduURL: https://www.lib.jmu.edu/special/

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Index Terms

Genre and Form

  • oral histories (literary works)

Personal Name

  • Rennyson, David James

Subject

  • Agricultural industries -- Virginia -- Rockingham County
  • Farm supply industries -- Virginia -- Rockingham County
  • Garden centers (Retail trade)
  • Seed industry and trade -- History
  • Seed industry and trade -- Equipment and supplies
  • Seed industry and trade -- Personnel management
  • Distributors (Seed industry and trade)
  • Rockingham County (Va.) -- History -- Sources
  • Harrisonburg (Va.) -- History -- Sources
  • Rockingham County (Va.) -- Industries -- Sources
  • Family-owned business enterprises -- Virginia -- Harrisonburg
  • Wetsel Seed Co.

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Collection Inventory

Title/Description Instances
House of Wetsel Seeds 1911-1971 Pamphlet, 1971

Records the growth and development of the Wetsel Seed Company, Inc. of Rockingham County, Va., from its beginnings as the Shenandoah Valley's first seed/feed/plant business in 1911 to its status as a multi-state seed/plant/lawn-garden firm in 1971. Gives biographical information about the founder, Daniel M. Wetsel, who experimented and developed various seed products, notably those associated with corn (and also tomato). Mentions his contributions, beginning in 1896, with the marketing of seeds and plants produced by the "Green Island Seed Farm at Port Republic, Va., with expansion/distribution to Harrisonburg and surrounding areas (cont.) Records important dates and changes in the development of the business (ex. in 1911, known as D.M. Wetsel & Son, with a store located in Harrisonburg; in 1915, it became known as the Wetsel Seed Company, Inc., with the eldest son, Arnold W., as co-founder). Refers to contributions made during World War I (victory gardens); 1929 depression, drought of 1930; exports (ex. grass seeds) during and following World War II, to various states and countries. Mentions development of mail order catalogs, delivery schedule calendars; seed cleaning/processing/packaging/storing service; truck delivery service; Waynesboro, Va. branch store; and development of the garden center. Mentions acquisitions of various buildings, etc. Relates contributions of four generations of family members, besides D. M. and A. W., including Earl H., Robert E., Nelson T., and Thomas M. Wetsel.

Box 1 Folder 1
Nelson T. Wetsel interviewed by David James Rennyson, January 24, 1990

Records the reminisces and viewpoints of Nelson Wetsel, former president, now consultant for the Wetsel Seed Company, recently bought out by Southern States. Includes a brief history of the company, which began as a family-owned business in 1911 and now employs close to 200 workers. Discusses the development/diversification of the firm over the years from primarily a local (Shenandoah Valley) seed business to a multi-state, etc. wholesale distributor of lawn and garden supplies, and supplier for the professional grower (greenhouses, nurseries) and turf grass industry. Gives biographical information about various family members, their contributions, and the general sense of what it was like to be part of a family-owned business (the company's policies, philosophy, employees). Reflects on recent developments with the Southern States association; gives views on the future

Transcript, January 24, 1990

(cont.) More specifically, discusses the following: diversity of products (including grass seeds such as varieties of bluegrass, orchard grass; lawn/indoor and outdoor garden/professional grower supplies such as fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, gardening tools, soils, containers; supplies specifically for greenhouses/nurseries, such as cuttings and rooted plugs; hydroseed turf industry). Describes various aspects/percentage of business trade and market: primarily wholesale/distributor; some middleman relations; retailer; associations with dealers and growers. Discusses Harrisonburg and Waynesboro stores; also warehouse branches

Box 1 Folder 2
Original audiocassette #1, January 24, 1990

Discusses various aspects of business management including: direct mail and other forms of advertisement (5 different types of catalogs, the Seed News, WESCO trade logo); development of a distribution system with delivery schedule calendars, truck delivery service and warehouses in various locations such as the Eastern shore; acquisition of numerous buildings; bookkeeping/accounting aspects, internal organization; employee/employer relations including hiring practices, women employees, salesmen; public relations with vendors/growers/agricultural colleges, trade fairs/shows; also community relations such as with James Madison University. Discusses changes in technology and its influence on the company, competitors, and outside influences of Southern States on organization structure, etc.

Media Cabinet 1 Audiocassette SA001-CS-001
Original audiocassette #2, January 24, 1990

Talks about the family philosophy of hard work, integrity, service; mentions numerous family members and their contributions, including: Daniel M., Arnold W., Earl H., Robert E., Thomas, and Jeff Wetsel. Also mentions Wampler family associations.

Media Cabinet 1 Audiocassette SA001-CS-002
Original audiocassette #3, January 24, 1990 Media Cabinet 1 Audiocassette SA001-CS-003
Preservation master cd #1 Media Cabinet 1 CD SA001-OP-001
Preservation master cd #2 Media Cabinet 1 CD SA001-OP-002
Preservation master cd #3 Media Cabinet 1 CD SA001-OP-003
Maxine Thomas interviewed by David James Rennyson, March 14, 1990

Records the reminisces and viewpoints of Maxine Thomas, a forty-two year employee (mostly in payroll accounting) at the Wetsel Seed Company in Harrisonburg, Va. Describes experiences and standpoints from the perspective of a non-family member, women and long-time employee at Wetsel's. Gives brief descriptions of various aspects of her work; some recollections concerning employee-employer relations, the growth of the company over the years, and memories of family members (Arnold W., Earl, Nelson, Bob (Robert), Tom, and Jeff Wetsel). Mentions growth in number of employees from around ten in 1949 to close to 200 in 1990. Briefly describes technological changes, such as the advent of computers; hiring practices; fringe benefits, etc. Mentions the number of salesmen; truck drivers; a few long-standing employees. Names the various states which are a part of the company's delivery/distribution service area

Transcript, March 14, 1990 Box 1 Folder 3
Original audiocassette, March 14, 1990 Media Cabinet 1 Audiocassette SA001-CS-004
Preservation master cd Media Cabinet 1 CD SA001-OP-004