Mosier’s Christmas Trees: Business started small, grew over the years

Fred & Arthur Bitters in front of the Christmas tree, circa 1954. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

The harvesting and sale of Christmas trees was big business in the Upper Peninsula and provided income to hundreds of forest owners, tree cutters, truckers and tree handlers. In the 1800s, trees were taken from the wilderness for Christmas celebrations. By the 20th century, they became a commodity and were planted in numbers for the Christmas season. William Mosier, from Rapid River, developed a profitable Christmas tree business.

In 1942, Mosier began his business in a small way. That year, he took 600 trees to Milwaukee to sell. He then returned every December and continued to increase his stock. By 1957, he had two sales lots in Milwaukee, with 2,500 trees grown on his own land. He also brought some trees from Wisconsin because he found some Milwaukee buyers were “edgy” about dealing with a Michigan supplier.

Before he entered the Christmas tree business, Mosier worked on his farm. He had a herd of Hereford beef cattle who ate almost all of his wooded range except the balsams. It was at this point that he decided to focus on raising and selling Christmas trees. Balsam fir are seeded in nature and do not thrive in nurseries or plantations. Deer will eat balsam only as a last resort. Mosier experimented with producing naturally seeded balsams and developed high quality trees. His natural large acreage could accommodate the self-seeded trees year after year, and he switched from raising beef to raising trees.

He also successfully planted 50,000 Scotch and red (Norway) pine. The Scotch pine is easy to shape and was favored as a market tree. After a few years, the pines were also put on the market with the balsam on his Milwaukee lots. An average balsam sold for $3.50 and larger trees were $6.00 to $7.00. Very large trees were restricted to public buildings.

When Mosier entered the tree business, most homes had nine-foot ceilings; many newer homes had seven-foot, six-inch ceilings, with dens having lower ones. When a large tree was bobbed to fit in a room with a lower ceiling, the tree’s symmetry was usually ruined. Mosier began providing trees intended for lower ceilings.

The Christmas tree harvest in the Upper Peninsula varied because of weather conditions. Trees had to be cut when the weather was mild enough so the branches would not break when folded for bundling.

Christmas tree growers thinned and pruned and otherwise managed the trees all year. Mosier learned pruning techniques and how to thin a stand by cutting out some trees, pruning some on the bottom and others on top to achieve maximum production and shapeliness. Balsam cut early do not lose their needles before Christmas, but they tend to brown. Pines also brown by Christmas and lose some market appeal. Buyers often sprayed the trees with different colors for Christmas.

When the commercial truckers delivered Mosier’s trees to his Milwaukee lots, he rented a garage in which to thaw them. In addition to the trees, Mosier, moved a ton or so of “brush” or evergreen boughs to his lots. They were given as premiums with his trees. Many people asked for a few boughs to repair broken limbs or for decorative accents inside their homes. After a few years, Mosier added a line of wreaths, garlands and other holiday greens.

Mosier’s sales increased every year, and he had a large volume of repeat customers. He never sold all his trees and hauled the leftovers home. One year he burned 235 extra trees.

Mosier learned a lot about the public and their preferences. Many men stopped on their way home from work, inspected the trees and said, “I’ll be back with my wife.” Some husbands stayed in the car while their wives made the purchases. More trees were sold on Saturday and Sunday than the rest of the week. Buyers were looking for shape, size, greenness and price. He was impressed by the demand for quality trees.

Mosier had such a good business, he was able to turn exclusively from general farming to tree farming and did not have to invest in heavy machinery. All he needed was a light tractor, a pruning bar and a couple of old trucks. His business was so successful after a few years, he fished in the summer and went south for the winters. He died in December 1982 at the age of 83.


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