Minnesota Apples: Growing a Success Story


Since almost the beginning of recorded human history, people have grown and eaten apples. Whether eaten fresh off the tree, baked into a pie or cooked into apple sauce, the apple has been a mainstay of many tables. The first apples were grown in Central Asia 4,000-10,000 years ago. Minnesota’s apple history doesn’t go back nearly that far — less than 200 years.

I would not choose to live in Minnesota because one cannot grow apples there.

– Horace Greeley, Editor of the New York Tribune newspaper, 1860

When Horace Greeley wrote these words in 1860, Minnesota was essentially without apples. The only native apple was the crabapple. Early efforts to bring apples west were met with disaster. Could an apple be developed to survive Minnesota’s climate? This was the challenge and Minnesota’s early horticulturists rose to meet it. Testing and trying thousands of seeds and scions (cuttings), they dreamt of developing an apple that could survive the state’s harsh weather.

In less than ten years, the challenge was answered. Peter Gideon shared a new apple — the “Wealthy” — in 1868. Named in honor of his wife Wealthy Hull Gideon, this apple could withstand the Minnesota climate, and the rest, as they say, is history. Of the world’s 7,500 apple varieties, nearly 30 of them were developed in Minnesota for local cultivation.

Apple trees in bloom, Blue Mounds Township, Minnesota
Wallblom sisters in the apple orchard, Minnesota
Display of Minnesota apples at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota

This exhibit explores some of the work of Minnesota’s apple pioneers and their efforts to develop a delicious and hardy fruit that could survive both Minnesota’s harsh winters and hot summers. Through their determination and continued experimentation, our state's early horticulturalists made it possible for Minnesotans to grow not only apples but also other winter-hardy produce. Today Minnesota’s apple varieties such as the Honeycrisp are recognized all over the world.

Learn about early cultivators, apple breeds, orchards, and recipes in the exhibit sections below.