A previous version of this blog post had Amos Kunderd’s name spelled incorrectly. We apologize for the error.
Last week one of our great volunteers brought in beautiful flowers for one of my coworkers. As the two were talking about the flowers, Wanda had mentioned that the flowers that she had brought in were Kunderd Gladiolus. As I overheard her say that, my ears perked up – not because I like flowers, but because of the name “Kunderd.” That name goes back to a flower business that was ran in Goshen during the first half of the 1900s that was known worldwide not just for beautiful flowers, but for the leading effort in science and hybridization.
Amos Kunderd was born in 1866 in Auburn, Ind., and lived his early life in the town of Kendallville. His interest in flowers, specifically gladioli, started when he was the flowers on the lapel and was fascinated by the long stem, and the graceful petals. He bought some bulbs after that moment, and planted them in the corner of his mother’s garden. He continued to do this through his younger life, and he also learned in his mother’s garden how to hybridize different species of gladioli, which would become what he became famous for. As he became an adult, he worked for a photography firm and later an insurance firm, but always kept his work in flowers as a treasured hobby.
In 1903, Kunderd achieved his first big success when he developed a variety of a ruffled variety of gladioli, which was titled “Kunderd Glory.” The flower became popular here in America and also Europe for its creamy ivory colored petals that were accentuated with hints of red colors along the petal edges. For this flower he received numerous honors, and made horticulture his career and opened a large operation in Kendalville.
One of his best moments was when his first catalog came out. Kunderd was so excited that he forgot to add the company’s name and the address on the catalog, and had to add them by hand. While he enjoyed working in Kendalville and gained more success, Kunderd searched for a place to set up his business that would allow him to extend his operations and provide better shipping opportunities. He explored areas in South Bend, but decided to settle in Goshen in 1910 after he was encouraged and courted by Goshen mayor Charles Kohler. As he built his Goshen business in the 1910s and 1920s, he also purchased land in White Pigeon, Mich., New York and other places to expand his business.
Kunderd main successes happened during the 1920s. In 1923, Kunderd again developed a new variety of gladiolus, this time a lacinated variety. This new variation was so successful that they were sold for $1,000 a bulb. Building off the success of this new flower, Kunderd expanded into the flowers he was selling and began growing peonies, iris, veronicum, hyacinth, daffodils, day lilies, and a number of other flowers. He became very successful in notoriety and his flowers won awards all over the world. After winning awards at the American Gladiolus Society show in Rochester, N.Y., Kunderd has the opportunity to meet President Calvin Coolidge who was vacationing at the summer White House, which was near there at the time. Kunderd presented Coolidge with a basket full of his prize winning flowers
Kunderd’s flowers also went onto to win awards in shows in Philadelphia, Belgium and across the globe. From all his success he was known as the “High Priest of Gladiolus” and “Edison of Gladiolus.” Learning of this, Thomas Edison wrote a letter to Kunderd and expressed that “Flowers are the poetry of commerce. I should very much like to do what you are doing if I was not otherwise engaged.”
The High Priest continued to produce flowers of the highest quality and had his biggest public display in 1933 at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. For the exposition, Kunderd displayed a quarter of million bulbs, and he and his staff worked tirelessly to ensure that the display was exquisite. According to Kunderd, his workers were cutting flowers for 63 straight days, and would drive up Chicago twice a week to renew and refreshen the exhibition.
Despite being in the height of his success, Kunderd could not escape the Great Depression, and his company took a large hit. The company did survive, however, and the farm in Goshen continued to grow flowers until 1971. Kunderd passed away in 1965, but he continued to tinker and experiment with flowers until his death. Because of him Goshen, was also known as the “The Gladiolus City” but is most remembered for the beautiful flowers he produced.