Last Bite - Mining engineer turns fruit grower
Ed Bannister's suggestion to rebuild the Congdon Ditch in concrete was revolutionary.
Yakima orchardist Ed Bannister adopted the Pyramid brand name in 1915 after purchasing his first five acres of orchard. He had more than 500 acres when he died in 1970.
Edward A. Bannister, founder and owner of the Pyramid brand, started his career as a mining engineer before joining the tree fruit industry. His paternal grandfather, Rev. Edward Bannister, was one of the pioneer settlers of California in 1850 and a leading minister of the Methodist church. He also served for several years as president of the University of the Pacific.
The Reverend Bannister's son (Ed's father), Alfred Bannister, became a civil engineer with a degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Alfred was the first in the Bannister family to visit the Yakima Valley. Alfred's sister had married a Minnesota lawyer and iron ore investor named Chester A. Congdon.
In the late 1880s, Congdon became interested in agricultural investment in the Yakima Valley. He bought land for future orchards, but this land needed irrigation, and Congdon therefore helped organize the North Yakima Canal Company in 1894. Congdon then persuaded his brother-in-law, Alfred, to take charge of the engineering for a canal that would have to run around a sheer rock face and across Cowiche Canyon to reach Congdon's property. Bannister was reluctant to leave his work in California, but ultimately took the Yakima Valley job and accomplished a difficult engineering feat that included a wooden trestle 85 feet above the valley floor and a revolutionary inverted siphon through Cowiche Canyon. This canal is known as the Congdon Ditch.
Alfred's son, Ed, was born in California in 1882 and earned a degree in mining from the University of California. In 1908, after working as a miner in California and Nevada, he was offered a job as engineer and assistant superintendent for a mine near Butte, Montana, which was owned by his uncle, Chester Congdon. When the mine closed the next winter, Ed and his new wife were transferred to Congdon-controlled mining operations in Minnesota, and then to another jobthis time in Yakima, Washington, where they arrived in 1910.
Ed's new job was to make a topographical survey of the Congdon Orchards, which at the time had 500 acres of young orchard. Ed was then asked by the directors of the North Yakima Canal Company to study the Congdon Ditch to determine what type of structure should be built to replace the old wooden flume. He recommended that reinforced concrete be used because it was more economical to build and more durable. Today, reinforced concrete is commonly used for canals, but back then, Ed's proposal was revolutionary. The canal is still in use today.
His orchard experience began in 1911. Two of his eastern relatives each had 20-acre blocks of orchards about to come into bearing, and the relatives were wondering how to handle their absentee ownership. When his uncle, Chester Congdon, found out that Ed and his wife were inclined to stay in Yakima, he proposed that the three of them enter into a business deal whereby Ed and his wife would rent and manage the two orchard tracts, which were adjacent to the Congdon place, on a 50-50 share basis. The deal sounded good, and the Bannisters became fruit growers in the spring of 1912, though Ed continued to work as chief engineer of the canal company for several years.
Ed packed his first crop of 1,500 boxes of apples and pears in the fall of 1912 and sold them through the Yakima County Horticultural Union for $811.
In 1914, he purchased a five-acre tract, which he planted to apples and pears. In 1915, Bannister adopted Pyramid as the brand name. A year later, he and a few other growers tried a revolutionary way to sell their packed Bartlett pears. There were no canneries in the valley at that time, so these growers put the crop into cold storage for a few weeks to let their fruit go out after the regular run of shipments. This was a different method of getting a crop to market because in those days the fruit was picked, packed, and taken to the railroad car without precooling. Since this "hold-back" method proved successful, cold storage was used increasingly throughout the industry to stretch out the marketing period for Yakima Valley apples and pears.
Over the next 50-plus years, Bannister developed and purchased additional orchard tracts. His personal holdings totaled 500 acres at his death in 1970, and he was still renting the two 20-acre tracts on a share basis from his relatives in the East.