Cranberry growers in America regard Abel Denison Makepeace as the “Grandfather” of their industry.
He was born in 1832 in Plymouth County, Mass., and hung out a sign in 1854 in nearby Barnstable County to announce that “A.D. Makepeace offers his services as a harness-maker and saddler.”
Makepeace soon discovered his affinity for agriculture and purchased a farm to grow potatoes, turnips and strawberries. He began experimenting with cranberries. It took a while, but Makepeace finally got the hang of it.
By 1890, Makepeace was “recognized by all New Englanders as the foremost man in the cranberry business, cultivating more acres and producing, by far, larger results than any other farm in the world,” according to Barnstable’s historian.
The family business he created – A.D. Makepeace Company – continues to prosper today. It is still the largest grower of cranberries in the world, owning 2,000 acres of cranberry bogs in several Massachusetts communities.
A.D.’s grandson, John C. Makepeace, was one of three founders of a unique grower-owner cooperative in 1930. His partners in this venture were Marcus Libby Urann and Elizabeth F. Lee. The cooperative took the name Cranberry Canners, Inc. (It would become Ocean Spray in 1959.)
Marcus Urann came from Holden, Maine. He gave up lawyering to revolutionize the cranberry industry, relocating to Plymouth County. At the time, cranberries were only available fresh for two months out of the year (typically harvested from mid-September until mid-November).
In 1912, Urann figured out a canning method to preserve cooked cranberries, making cranberries a year-round product. He also was the first to “juice” cranberries, creating a whole new product line.
Storyteller Sahil Bloom said Urann’s cranberry operations “were an immediate success. People began calling him the ‘Cranberry King.’”
Elizabeth Lee and her brother, Enoch Bills, owned cranberry bogs in New Egypt, N.J. They had a cranberry surplus in 1917, so Elizabeth took some of the unsold cranberries into her kitchen. She cooked them on the stovetop, adding sugar and “secret ingredients.”
“She was so impressed with her creation that she took a few cases of her special sauce to Philadelphia to find an investor to buy and sell her sauce,” reported Geocaching.com. “However, no investors saw her, and because she didn’t want to lug the crates back to New Egypt, she just left them there.”
“By the time she returned to New Egypt, a telephone call was waiting for her to inform her that ‘an investor’ tasted her sauce, loved it and made an order of 500 cases.”
“So, she got to cooking. She bought up all surplus berries from local cranberry bogs and expanded beyond her kitchen into an old chicken coop where her children and neighbors were employed to help Elizabeth Lee make her cranberry sauce.”
“Glass jars, packed in straw, were shipped in and washed. The label ‘Bog Sweet’ was hand-pasted on the jars, and the cartons were hand-packed and taken to the train depot for shipment.”
Elizabeth Lee was ultimately labeled “Cranberry Queen.” She became vice president of the cooperative, while Urann was president and general manager. Makepeace served as secretary-treasurer as well as “Archduke.”
Alex Manchester, cranberry foreman at A.D. Makepeace, told journalist Aviva Luttrell: “To be a cranberry farmer, you have to wear a lot of different hats.”
“You have to be a horticulturalist, an amateur mechanic...an advanced mechanic if you have it in you – I don’t. You have to be a meteorologist definitely, and an entomologist, too. There’s plenty of life out here besides cranberries.”