Dexter M. Ferry

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Dexter M. Ferry
Dexter M.Ferry Sr..jpg
Dexter Mason Ferry

(1833-08-03)August 3, 1833
Lowville, New York
DiedNovember 10, 1907(1907-11-10) (aged 74)
Spouse(s)Addie E. Miller
ChildrenDexter M. Ferry, Jr.
Blanche Ferry Hooker
Queene Ferry Coonley

Dexter Mason Ferry (August 8, 1833 - November 10, 1907)[1] was a businessman from Detroit, Michigan who founded D.M. Ferry & Co., at one time the largest seed company in the world.[1]

Early life[edit]

Dexter M. Ferry was born in Lowville, New York on August 8, 1833, the son of wagonmaker Joseph N. and Lucy Mason Ferry.[1] When Dexter was three, his father died, and his mother moved to Penfield, New York, where Dexter spent his school years. When he was 16, Dexter Ferry began working on a farm, earning $10 per month, and attending school in the winter.[2] In 1851, he began working for Ezra M. Parsons of Rochester, New York, and entered school there. A few months later, Parsons secured a position as an errand boy for Ferry at the S.D. Elwood & Company of Detroit, a stationery firm, and in 1852 Ferry moved to Detroit. He was soon promoted to salesman at the firm, and later bookkeeper.[1]

D.M. Ferry & Co.[edit]

In 1856, Ferry got into the seed-growing business as a junior partner, along with Milo T. Gardner and Eber F. Church,[3] of M.T. Gardner & Company (also known as Gardner, Ferry, and Church). The first year, the company did $6000 in business[4] and it continued to be stable, but unremarkable, until 1865, when Ferry bought out Gardner's share and took over the company.[5] Ferry changed the company name to Ferry, Church & Co, and two years later, when Church retired,[6] changed the name again, this time to D.M. Ferry & Co.[1]

Ferry introduced several innovations in the seed-vending business. He sold only fresh seed, increasing germination rates and establishing a reputation for quality.[7] Ferry was among the first to sell seeds in small packets.

The business grew steadily, and in 1879 was incorporated under the name D.M. Ferry & Co with $750,000 in capital, with Ferry as president,[5] James McMillan as vice-president, H. Kirke White as secretary, and Charles C. Bowen as treasurer.[4] A. E. F. White, John Stoughton Newberry, and W. K. Anderson were also officers.[4] At the same time, the Detroit Seed Company was absorbed into the new corporation. Business of the company continually increased for some time, until January 1, 1886, when a disastrous fire demolished the company's warehouse with the loss of near $1,000,000.[5] However, Ferry quickly organized the company, bought seeds from outside sources and absorbed two smaller seed companies, and the company managed to fill orders for its customers.[5]

Ferry built a new warehouse, and by 1890 was doing over a million and a half dollars in business annually.[5] By the early 1900s, the company was doing over $2,000,000 per year in business, and supplying seeds to 160,000 retail outlets.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Dexter M Ferry, around 1890

On October 1, 1867, Ferry married Addie E. Miller. The couple had three children who outlived them: Dexter M. Ferry, Jr., Blanche Ferry Hooker, and Queene Ferry Coonley.[1]

Other pursuits[edit]

Dexter M. Ferry was also president of the First National Bank of Detroit, the Union Trust Company, Standard Accident Insurance Company, Michigan Fire & Marine Insurance Company, the American Harrow Company, and the National Pin Company,[1] and one of the organizers of the Wayne County Savings Bank.[2] He also owned substantial real estate, much of it used by his seed company. He helped manage Detroit's Harper Hospital for nearly forty years,[2] and was one of the founders of Grace Hospital.[1]

He was a trustee of Olivet College and of the First Congregational Church of Detroit,[1] and of the Detroit Institute of Arts.[5]

Ferry was also active in public service and Republican politics. He served one term on the Detroit Board of Estimates in 1877-78, and on the Detroit Board of Park Commissioners in 1884. In 1892 and 1904 he was a delegate from Michigan to the Republican National Convention. He was Chair of the Republican State Central Committee in 1896-98, and a candidate for nomination for governor in 1900.[1]


Addie Ferry died on November 2, 1906.[1] Dexter M. Ferry closely followed his wife, dying on November 10, 1907.[1] He was buried at Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Clarence Monroe Burton; William Stocking; Gordon K. Miller, eds. (1922), The city of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Volume 3, The S. J. Clarke publishing company, pp. 8–12
  2. ^ a b c Charles Moore; Lewis Publishing Company (1915), History of Michigan, Volume 2, Lewis Publishing Company, pp. 1113–1116
  3. ^ "Where it began". Ferry Morse Seed Company. Archived from the original on July 10, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d Compendium of History and Biography of the City of Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan, Henry Taylor & Co, 1908, pp. 174–176
  5. ^ a b c d e f Western Publishing and Engraving Co (1890), John Bersey, ed., Cyclopedia of Michigan: historical and biographical, Western publishing and engraving co., pp. 134–136
  6. ^ Mike Dunton. "Dexter Mason Ferry". Seedsmen Hall of Fame. Victory Seed Company. Retrieved April 22, 2012.
  7. ^ Judith M. Taylor (2011). "Ferry Morse Seed Company, San Francisco". Horthistoria. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
Party political offices
Preceded by
James McMillan
Chairman of the Michigan Republican Party
1896 – 1898
Succeeded by
Arthur M. Marsh