Morning News

HARTSVILLE — The Coker Farms National Historic Landmark in cooperation with Crema Coffee Bar of Hartsville is presenting a pictorial history of Coker Pedigreed Seed Company from 1915 to 1980 at Crema.

Pressly Coker, whose grandfather was president of the company, has assembled more than 250 Coker Pedigreed Seed Company photographs and memorabilia for the display.

“Many of the 250 pictures are iconic,” Coker said. Many of the items in the exhibit are from his personal collection.

Coker Experimental Farms, also known as Coker Pedigreed Seed Company, was established in the early 1900s by David R. Coker, son of Major James L. Coker, founder and first president of Sonoco Products Company in Hartsville.

Coker Pedigreed Seed Company featured the first cotton-breeding program in the United States.

Coker developed a longer staple cotton that could grow throughout the South.

The company developed and improved seeds for various crops such as cotton, corn, beans, melons and tobacco. It made a significant mark on Southern agriculture, improving the yield of existing crops and helping establish new ones such as soybeans.

By 1963, approximately 65 percent of the cotton acreage of the Southeast, 80 percent of the oat acreage and 75 percent of the tobacco acreage could be traced to seed developed at Coker Pedigreed Seed, according to information posted at the Coker Farms National Historic Landmark on Fourth Street in Hartsville.

The seed company quickly became identified with its trademark logo “Blood Will Tell” encased in a big red heart. The emblem was recommended by A.L.M. Wiggins, former owner of The Hartsville Messenger.

The company’s name became Coker’s Pedigreed Seed Company in 1923. Coker said the company shut down in 1986.

After David R. Coker, George Wilds served as president from 1938 to 1951. He was followed by Robert R. Coker, 1951-1978, S. Pressly Coker Jr., 1978-1982, and Dr. Joe Dahmer, 1982-1988. In 1988, the company was purchased by Northrup King Seed Company.

Coker said he grew up working for Coker Pedigreed Seed Company.

“The people who worked there loved their work,” he said.

Coker said that in 1940 cotton was selling for about 27½ cents per pound. The workers at CPS were paid 5 cents per pound to pick the cotton. He said a fast worker could pick about 140 pounds an hour.

His plans are to come to Crema about one night a week while the exhibit is on display to talk about Coker Pedigree Seed Company, give some little known history and answer questions people might have.

He said the exhibit is designed to be able to travel after its time at the coffee shop. Coker said he would like to take it anywhere it will be able to educate people.

“It took me over 10 years to collect and digitize the many brochures and photos,” Coker said. “We (Coker Farms National Historic Landmark Foundation) wanted to do something to help educate our younger generation about agriculture and how it has changed over the years, the methodization and equipment.”

Coker said the company received its historical landmark designation in 1963 as it was the first seed company in the United States to use scientifically-based seed breeding principles to develop improved varieties of cotton for farmers to plant.

“I chose Crema as the first location because it showcases local artists; it is a site that Coker University and Governor’s School students frequent,” he said. “I think Crema is the best place to provide a passive education for the younger generation.”

Coker said for a tax-deductible donation to the foundation, people will be able to pick a photograph in the collection, and he will email them a digital print.

The exhibit will remain at Crema for the next two months. Crema Coffee Bar is at 136 W. Carolina Ave. in downtown Hartsville.

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