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Oregonencyclopedia.org
Oregonencyclopedia.org

Who Are Harry and David?

Oregonencyclopedia.org
Oregonencyclopedia.org

If you’ve ever been enrolled in the Fruit-of-the-Month Club or gotten a Tower of Treats as a gift, you’re probably familiar with the names Harry and David, but don’t know much about them. Are they real people? Do they have last names?

Harry and David Holmes were indeed real people, and the story of their fruit business starts with their father, Samuel Rosenberg. Sam was a successful hotelier in Washington state with a passion for agriculture. In 1910, he sold his Hotel Sorrento in Seattle and purchased 240 acres of pear orchards along the Bear Creek in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. When Sam died in 1914, his sons, who both had his green thumb and graduated from Cornell University’s school of agriculture, took over the Bear Creek Orchards. 

The brothers marketed their Comice pears, which they dubbed "Royal Riviera,” as luxury items on the East Coast and in Europe throughout the 1920s, but struggled when fruit prices plummeted during the Great Depression. Desperate to find new buyers, the brothers went on two promotional trips to New York and San Francisco to court would-be corporate clients. No one was biting in New York City, and the 15 boxes of unripened pears they had brought with them sat untouched in their hotel room for a week. Not wanting the fruit to go to waste, they took a suggestion from an advertising executive that they’d met and had the pears delivered, along with a hand-written letter on their hotel stationery, as free samples to business tycoons and captains of industry around town. 

Orders soon came rolling in. Businesses wanted to do what the brothers had done, and send gift boxes of Royal Rivieras and other fruits to their own clients and important customers. Mail-order fruits and other gift packages soon became a big part of their business. 

Bear Creek boomed, and expanded as the brothers bought up land from other struggling growers through the 1930s. In the next decade, World War II was a hurdle and a boon. The brothers had to change their last name to Holmes to counter anti-Semitic boycotts of their products in Germany and Nazi-controlled countries, but overcame the war-time labor shortage by using German POWs at a nearby army camp to harvest their crops. 

David died in 1950 and Harry in 1959. They passed the business on to their sons, who kept it a private, family-owned company until 1976. In early 2011 the company, struggling with debt and decreasing sales, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and emerged from that protection later that year.

Primary image via Oregon Encyclopedia.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?
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The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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