Today was the birthday in 1774 of John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed.

In some ways, the real life Johnny Appleseed was very much like the person depicted in books and movies.

He really did travel around the country without shoes on, and he really did wear a tin hat on his head which he also used as a bowl when he was eating.

He really did love animals of all kinds, he really was a vegetarian, and he really did spread apple seeds wherever he went.

But he wasn’t just a frontier hippie just enjoying the land, man.

Chapman was also a savvy, albeit eccentric, entrepreneur.

As the US expanded west in the 19th Century, the country wanted to make sure the people setting up homesteads wouldn’t just give up after a year or two and go somewhere else.

So they required that people show they were in it for the long run by planting crops that take a long time to grow, like apples.

Johnny Appleseed would keep an eye out for the next big spot for homesteading.

The trained orchardist would get there before the settlers did, so he could sell them tree saplings.

Now, most orchardists even in that time propagated popular apple varieties by grafting limbs from a successful tree onto others.

Essentially you clone the good apples from tree to tree.

Johnny Appleseed believed grafting hurt the trees, so he really did carry around seeds.

As a result, his trees weren’t very tasty.

But they weren’t always for eating: people who didn’t have reliable supplies of clean water used apples to make hard cider or applejack.

(If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, what does 10 ounces of applejack a day do?)

It wasn’t until Prohibition that apple growers had to rebrand their product as a healthy, pure, clean and nonalcoholic food choice.

I’ll give you three guesses which mythical character they used to market their healthy, pure, clean, nonalcoholic apples to the world.

The first two guesses don’t count.

Today in 1969, the release of the Beatles album Abbey Road.

When the album came out, the record company put up billboards of the band walking across Abbey Road as shown on the cover – only after it was put up, someone cut Paul McCartney’s head off the LA billboard as a souvenir!

After that, the head thief had to carry that weight.

The Real Johnny Appleseed Brought Apples—and Booze—to the American Frontier (Smithsonian)

Billboard USA: when rock took over advertising’s roadside monoliths (The Guardian)

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Image via Wikicommons