The Wenatchee Produce Company, with its famous Rose brand label, was among the largest fruit shippers in the state of Washington for nearly 40 years. Wenatchee Produce can trace its beginnings to a business founded by Conrad Rose and Leroy Wright in the late 1800s. However, only three years into the partnership, Wright struck out on his own, moved to Winthrop in the Methow Valley, and established a ranch known for its pet peacocks and trout stream. Thus, the story of the Rose label and the Wenatchee Produce Company is essentially the story of Conrad Rose.
Conrad Rose was born February 6, 1862, in Missouri of German parents. In 1865, the family moved to Illinois.
During his teen years, Conrad worked as a clerk and as a casual laborer as he roamed along the Pacific Coast. At age 19, he settled in Sprague,
Washington, where he began work for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Four years later, in 1885, he was promoted to engineer, married Elizabeth Milner (a native of Liverpool, England), and moved to the growing town of Ellensburg, Washington, when he was transferred to the Northern Pacific’s Tacoma–Pasco run. In 1886, Rose visited the Wenatchee Valley and purchased 160 acres of dry land for $900. A year later, he left the railroad and moved his family of four by horse and wagon to Wenatchee.
“It was the hottest day I had ever experienced,” Elizabeth Rose recalled in a later interview. “There was no shade. Nothing but sand and hot wind and sagebrush. I kept looking for the town. Conrad said there was no town. Then I saw the house!” she said. “Two rooms. A kitchen and a bedroom. A farm! I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know now why I didn’t walk back to Ellensburg.”
This first farm had no on-site water supply, and their efforts produced very little. Despite this bleak start, Rose made a living by hauling other area farmers’ produce over Colockum Pass to the railroad in Ellensburg and then bringing back supplies for them.
Sale of his original property to a land development company speculating on the future arrival of the railroad allowed the Roses to build a “real” home on acreage with water rights. Peaches were their first successful venture in growing tree fruit.
When the Great Northern Railroad came through Wenatchee in 1892, Rose’s Wenatchee Produce Company was poised to grow by leaps and bounds. Rose soon was sending his fruit in express shipments to eastern U.S. markets and recruited some of the Great Northern stationmasters to serve as his agents. Other farmers moved into the region, planted orchards, and relied on Rose to ship their produce. In 1904, Rose built a system of warehouses in Wenatchee to supply the loading of nine rail cars at a time. The company’s extensive store and salesrooms carried orchard supplies, automobiles, trucks, spraying machines, flour, hay, grain, and all kinds of feed. He also had smaller warehouses built in the smaller communities along the railroad tracks that ran along the Columbia, Wenatchee, and Okanogan Rivers. Annual sales from all these support facilities reached one million dollars from the nonfruit items and several million more from the fruit itself. Orchardists and ranchers admired Rose for his honesty and integrity. He became the largest single shipper on the Great Northern Railroad for many years in the early 1900s, and the Rose label became a familiar sight in markets across the country into the 1930s.
Some years after Rose’s death in 1938, the Rose label was acquired by the J.M. Wade Company, which used it to successfully market fresh fruit for many more years.
Tom Riedinger, an Edmonds, Washington resident and a grandson of Conrad Rose, wrote the original draft of this article.