Johnny Appleseed’s Goal In Planting Apple Trees Was To?
Answer: Make Hard Cider
If you grew up in the United States, it’s almost a certainty that somewhere between the ages of 5 and 10 years old, as part of your social studies curriculum in elementary school, you learned about Johnny Appleseed. Depending on when you learned about him, how long you learned about him, and how much energy your teacher invested into the folklore and truths surrounding Appleseed, what you learned might range from total folklore levels of credibility to kinda-sorta the truth.
One thing we’re willing to bet on, however, is that when you learned about Johnny Appleseed—a real historical figure actually named John Chapman—what you didn’t learn at the tender age of, say, 7, was that old Johnny was mad planting nurseries of trees across the land to be used for creating orchards of apples to make hard cider. If you’re surprised by that, we don’t blame you. The modern perception of John Chapman is of a fairy-tale like folklore hero who traipsed across the American landscape planting apple trees like a Disney princess spreading good will. In reality, Chapman was a practical man doing the most practical thing to feed early American’s ravenous appetite for hard cider—a drink that was, by far and away, one of the most popular beverages this side of the Atlantic ocean throughout the 1800s. People on the frontiers, where drinking water was often suspect, consumed an average of 11 ounces of hard cider per day.
The apple trees Chapman planted produced apples that weren’t particularly palatable right off the tree. These weren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, honey crisp apples or even decently palatable feed apples. These were apples intended to be collected en mass, mashed up, and fermented into delicious hard cider.
Now, this doesn’t mean there aren’t a few kernels of truth in the Johnny Appleseed tales. Chapman did appear to be practically everywhere planting nurseries. As a savvy business man, he would travel ahead of the general population pushing westward, planting nursery after nursery to keep the supply of apple trees for making cider flowing as people trickled in and then became established populations. Many of the orchards created with trees from the nurseries he planted continued to fuel cider brewing well up until the Prohibition era, where they were destroyed by die-hard temperance advocates. This is also the point where there was a significant shift in American culture away from hard cider and towards the idea that apples were a healthy—an apple a day keeps the doctor away—fruit and not, as they had been for centuries, a source of alcoholic drinks.
Image by H. S. Knapp/Wikimedia.