Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Seedy Business: History of the Barteldes Seed Company

 ‘Barteldes’ stands for quality and we spare no expense or labor to keep up this high standard of quality.
1912 Barteldes seed catalog

In 1860, six years after the first settlers arrived in Lawrence, Friedo Barteldes was the proprietor of a small grocery business on Massachusetts Street. He added a few seed packets to his inventory, and this aspect of his business grew rapidly. It became the Kansas Seed House, the largest seed firm west of the Mississippi. The business employed four salesman on the road, plus fifteen to twenty employees who worked at the House, cleaning and shipping seeds.

Photograph of the Barteldes Groceries & Provisions and Seed Store, 1864

Barteldes Groceries & Provisions and Seed Store, 1864. Douglas County Historical Society
Manuscript Collections. Call Number: Call Number: RH MS-P 1435. Click image to enlarge.

Friedo’s nephew F. W. Barteldes joined the business in 1874. Upon Friedo’s death in 1887, F. W. Barteldes and Max Wilhelmi became the company’s proprietors. In 1906, the Kansas Seed House was incorporated as the Barteldes Seed Company. It expanded that same year, adding locations in Denver and Oklahoma City. The company’s headquarters moved to Denver in 1961.

Cover of the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1897 Page from the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1897

Pages from the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1897. F. W. Barteldes published his company’s first
seed catalog in 1876. He took them along as he traveled during the summer months, taking seed orders
that he filled once he returned to Lawrence. Call Number: RH C4970. Click images to enlarge.

Cover of the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1901 Page from the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1901

Pages from the Kansas Seed House catalog, 1901. Call Number: RH C4971. Click images to enlarge.

Cover of the Barteldes seed catalog, 1915 Page from the Barteldes seed catalog, 1915

Pages from the Barteldes seed catalog, 1915. Call Number: RH Ser C1257. Click images to enlarge.

Barteldes Seed Company was located at 804 Massachusetts Street. Its warehouses – where seeds were stored and tested for germination – were located at 805-811 New Hampshire Street. The store was connected to the warehouses by a walkway over the alley. In 1999, the steel beam walkway was still visible. Today, 804 Massachusetts Street is occupied by Sunflower Bike Shop.

Photograph of the Kansas Seed House storefront, 1886

Kansas Seed House storefront at 804 Massachusetts Street, 1886. Owner F. W.
Barteldes is in the middle, wearing a hat. Douglas County Historical Society Manuscript
Collections. Call Number: Call Number: RH MS-P 1435. Click image to enlarge.

Fire was a persistent concern for the Barteldes Seed Company. The first fire occurred in 1863 during Quantrill’s Raid. Friedo Barteldes was the first shop owner to rebuild and accounts state that the work was completed within seven days. Fire struck again in 1904, and the two-story building was rebuilt with a third floor. As a result of these incidents, the warehouses were reconstructed with fire safety in mind. Seeds were stored in steel cabinets with wire trays. All the doors and walls were fireproofed, and at least some of the ceiling and floors were glass. Each floor was equipped with a large fire hose, and each aisle had a fire extinguisher.

At times during the twentieth century, Barteldes sold more than seeds. In December, the basement of Warehouse A was used to store Christmas trees, and nearly all of the Christmas trees in Lawrence were from Barteldes. For many years, Barteldes also processed and marketed popcorn under their registered name TNT Food Products, Inc., which was formed in 1952.

Meredith Huff
Public Services

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