Annals of Horticulture in North America (1891)

Liberty Hyde Bailey


Peter Kieffer, the originator of the Kieffer pear, died at Roxborough, Philadelphia, November 7th. He was born in Alsace in 1812, and came to America in 1834. The following account of him is from his friend, Thomas Meehan:

“Mr. Peter Kieffer was a near neighbor of mine. He was, when a young man, educated as a gardener, and I may say highly educated, much above the average class. He came to America from Alsace. He was of French descent. He was gardener for many years at Mount Airy to Mr. James Gowen, long known as President of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society, and kept up his connections with friends in the Old World, occasionally introducing rare plants and trees, many of which are still existing in Germantown. Being of a frugal and saving disposition, after some years he had means enough to purchase a few acres of ground near here, on which he established a nursery and market garden. Among his introductions was the Chinese Sand pear. His land here increased in value to such an extent that he sold it for a considerable advance, and with the proceeds bought a farm near Roxborough, about three miles from where I now live; on this ground he transplanted some of his Sand pears, planting them among some Bartlett pear trees. The branches of the Bartlett pears and the Chinese Sand pears intermixed. There was a great demand for Sand pear trees by the neighbors for ornamental gardening, on account of the delightful odor of the fruit, besides the thrifty, healthy growth of the foliage, and he raised seedlings from his trees in order to supply this demand. On one occasion he noticed among the seedlings one with somewhat different foliage than the rest; this he saved for himself, and when it bore fruit, the one which we now know as Kieffer pear was the result. It is, of course, only guessed at from this that the Kieffer pear is a hybrid between the Sand pear and the Bartlett. I mention this because some have contended that this is not a hybrid, but simply a sport, without any real intermixture of pollen from the Bartlett tree. Of course, we are all entitled to our opinion, and my opinion is, that it is really a hybrid. Mr. Kieffer was a very generous man, child-like and unsuspecting in his disposition, and, though he knew the great value of this fruit, he seldom resisted applications for grafts or cuttings, and though hundreds of thousands of dollars have been made by different parties by the sale and distribution of the Kieffer, it is probable that he never made many dollars out of it for himself. Mr. Kieffer's knowledge of gardening was of a very high order; he knew how to ripen pears, and it is a remarkable fact that no matter what the season or what the crop, Kieffer pears distributed by Mr. Kieffer were always of the highest excellence. I never knew a Kieffer pear to come from Mr. Kieffer that one would not say was of a higher character than almost any pear that he ever ate; but those who know no more of the art of gardening than to put in a tree, and let it mature of itself, without any help at all on the part of the grower, conclude that Kieffer pears are scarcely worth eating. Undoubtedly these pears are of no account in the way of excellence as we usually find them, but in Mr. Kieffer's hands this pear was something to remember with keen pleasure after having once eaten it.

"Peter Kieffer spelled his name as here written, and pronounced it as if written Kifer, the e in the first syllable being silent. Discussions are continually going on that he ought to have pronounced his name in a different manner, following the German rule, but Mr. Kieffer was not a German, but a Frenchman, and I suppose would be justified in judging for himself how his name should be pronounced.Ӡ

†It is evident that the name should be pronounced Keefer, after the German method, for it is a German name. A true French pronunciation would be neither Keefer nor Kifer. In Alsace the name would ordinarily be pronounced with a long e even by Frenchmen.— L.H.B.

More on the Kieffer pear in American Gardening 14: 457-459 (1893)