Like the countless seeds the Meyer Seed Company has sold over the past hundred years, the story of this long-running legacy business starts with water. Before he held a seed bucket or a watering can, the company’s founder, John F. Meyer, worked as a sailor, eventually becoming first officer of the schooner Katie J. Irelan. On September 22, 1897, on a voyage carrying scrap iron from Baltimore to Wilmington, North Carolina, a severe storm swamped the ship. Another ship struggling through the storm spotted the Katie J. Irelan in distress and rescued Meyer and his crewmates less than two hours before the 708-ton ship sank into the ocean. Meyer retired from sailing the next year. Later, Meyer fondly recalled the eleven years he spent on the “adventurous yet hard life” at sea before he “drifted back to Baltimore and decided to stick to dry land.”
Meyer started selling seeds for the long-established Bolgiano Seed Company at the northeast corner of Pratt and Light Streets. In September 1910, he partnered with German immigrant G.W. Stisser to form the Meyer-Stisser Seed Company initially located at 32 Light Street. After the end of World War I, Stisser returned to Germany so, in 1921, Meyer bought out his interest in the business. By 1927, the business boasted a proud motto: “Sterling quality, courteous treatment and punctuality.”
Meyer’s assistant, Webster Hurst, Sr., bought out Meyer (but kept the name) in the 1930s. Today, three successive generations of the Hurst family have continued to run the company and devote their lives to selling seeds. Apparently, the seed business is as much about cultivating people as plants. At least two of the current employees have been with the company for over thirty years. Charles Pearre, a former employee, worked for over fifty years selling and developing seeds. In addition, there are even customers who have bought Meyer Seed for multiple generations.
Meyer Seed is now located in a nondescript warehouse on Caroline Street between Harbor East and Fells Point. Stepping inside, however, offers a rare sight—hundreds of varieties of seeds displayed in big banks of wooden drawers and long rows of bins used by countless customers over the decades.The company’s wide variety of seeds for sale has helped Meyer Seed compete with “big box” stores that don’t offer nearly the same range of options for gardeners.
Meyer Seed has been around long enough to see some of their seeds rise and fall in popularity. After the “Long John” melon was developed in Anne Arundel, County, Meyer Seed was the first company to start selling the melon’s seeds in 1930. But, in the decades after World War II, very few farmers or gardeners planted what are now known as “heirloom” plant varieties like the Long John melon. Fortunately, in 2004, David Pendergrass of the New Hope Seed Company in Tennessee learned of the long defunct melon and obtained some starter seeds from the USDA. The plants grew and Pendergrass reintroduced the melon to the world in 2007. Whether it’s seeds for heirloom melons or cutting edge organic gardening seeds, for over one hundred years, Meyer Seed remains at the center of Baltimore’s seed world.