History Sunday: A “Fruitful” Discovery

Benjamin Peary, in the time of the American Revolution, was pretty much unimportant. An apple farmer, he did not go to war, instead growing apples of a fairly miserable quality. After the war, apple sales went way down for Peary, as his apples were fantastically terrible. George Washington was quoted as saying “I would rather eat a clod of dirt than a Peary apple,” and as we know, he could not tell a lie.

Because of the dismal reaction to his apples, Peary decided to take action. In 1787, he took two of his best apples, cut them in half, stuck them together with a heavy-duty paste, and planted them in the ground, hoping to gain a hybrid apple out of this process. As we know now, this is ridiculous; when you plant two halves of apples in the ground, especially with cow-hoof glue, you get a pear. But, at the time, this was not a known fact. So, in a few years, expecting the greatest apples, Benjamin Peary instead invented the first pear. He immediately named it after himself: The Peary-Fruit.

Henry David Thoreau, the famous poet and nature lover, had this to say about this fruit in 1853:

Oh what wondrous splendor lies,

Inside this fruit, before my eyes,

A stranger shape I’ve never seen,

With small brown spots on back of green,

Beneath this tree, atop a root,

I sit, enjoying a Pear

It does seem, because of the lack of rhyme, that he meant to refer to it as a Peary-Fruit, but paper was expensive in those days, and in the original document, the word “Pear” goes right to the end of the page. Historians assume that he ran out of paper, and for whatever reason, published the poem regardless to his error. This popularized the little-known fruit, and gave it it’s new name.

Through many changes, however, one thing remains constant; the pear has always been uniquely American, from it’s invention in 1787, to it’s name change and popularization in 1853, to the present day. Now, the national fruit is a pear, and a pear is featured on every piece of American currency.


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