Richard Frotscher, Seedsman

Cover of Richard Frotscher’s Garden Manual 1895.

Richard Frotscher (1833-1896) was a seedsman and horticulturist. He was born in Leipzig, Saxony (now Germany). He made his way to New Orleans after the Southern Rebellion. He established himself as a horticulturist, writing about botany and horticulture in the American South.

While many companies operated mail-order seed businesses, Frotscher established a new angle. He included an almanac and reference guide in his catalog. The data and advice offered by Richard Frotscher focused on growing fruits and vegetables in Southern states. As the South transitioned from large plantations to smaller farms, Frotscher’s writing reduced the farmers’ risk. He provided detailed information on soil conditions. This helped farmers determine what to plant an

Sketch of Richard Frotscher, from the Cyclopedia of American Agriculture, 1909


German immigration

Germans arrived along the Gulf Coast as early as the founding of New Orleans. What we know as modern Germany was, during the 18th century, a collection of states such as the Kingdoms of Prussia, Bavaria, and the Holy Roman Empire. Political turmoil was constant, up to the unification of Germany in the 1870s. Like the Irish, the Germans came to North America, hoping for a better life.

Germans in New Orleans lived for the most part under the radar in French and Spanish Colonial times. By the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the German community in the city was significant. After Bonaparte’s failed attempt to re-organize the Holy Roman Empire into his Confederation of the Rhine, conflicts throughout the region grew. Germans came into port cities like New York, Baltimore, and New Orleans.

Richard Frotscher was typical of many Germans of the mid-19th Century. He left Leipzig at the age of 17, escaping the social upheaval in Europe at the time. He lived for a time in Philadelphia, where he married Emilie Schwalm. After the Southern Rebellion, the couple made their way to New Orleans. He applied the training given him by his grandfather to open a commercial seed business. In 1867, their first child, Maria Theresa, was born. Richard educated his daughter in botany and horticulture, grooming her to enter the family business.

Vegetable Development

Working from his warehouse and office in the 500 block of Dumaine Street, Frotscher experimented with numerous vegetables. He studied the climate and growing conditions in the South, developing improvements to existing common vegetables. Some of his varietals include:

  • New Orleans Market Melon
  • New Orleans Market Cucumber
  • New Orleans Market Eggplant
  • Frotscher’s Superior Large Late Flat Dutch Cabbage
  • Creole Onion

Frotscher also sold mirlitons, a popular vegetable in Creole-French cuisine. In his 2020 paper, The History of Chayote (Mirliton) In North America: “One of the Noblest Gifts the Vegetable Kingdom Can Offer Man,” Lance Hill of says: “Throughout the last three decades of the nineteenth century, both companies [Frotscher and J. Steckler] advertised mirlitons, and both used the anglicized term ‘vegetable pear’ in place of ‘chayote’ or ‘mirliton.'” Hill goes on to point out that “Anglo-Americans” (an interesting characterization of the German-born Frotscher) didn’t fully appreciate the mirliton as a vegetable, considering the plant more ornamental.

Illustration of a “vegetable pear” (mirliton), in J. Steckler’s 1901 catalog.

Additionally, Frotscher introduced improvements on many types of fruit and shade trees. His reputation for delivering quality product was such that the company shipped seeds across the region.


Pecans were a specific interest of Frotscher’s. He became friends with Hubert Bozano, the owner of Oak Alley Plantation, up the river in Vacherie, LA. At Oak Alley, Frotscher learned how to propagate pecans. An enslaved farmer, Antoine, successfully propagated pecans at Oak Alley in 1846. Antoine grafted wild pecan plants onto established seedling stock. His work was a resound success. Antoine’s pecan won the Best Pecan Exhibited award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. Richard took some of Antoine’s plants, now named the “Centennial” variety, back to New Orleans. He continued Antoine’s development of Centennial, improving grafting techniques. His research led to the creation of additional pecan varietals, most notably, “Frotscher’s Egg Shell,” and “Rome.” His techniques weren’t “trade secrets.” Richard wrote about his experiments, so farmers would buy his pecans.

Frotscher’s Egg-Shell Pecan, from 1904 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture.

The Catalog

Ten years after his arrival in New Orleans, Richard published the first edition of “Richard Frotscher’s Almanac and Garden Manual for the Southern States.” It was subtitled, “To give Directions for the Cultivation of Vegetables, as Practiced in the South.” Its purpose, as stated here in the 1895 edition, was “to give short and plain instructions regarding the cultivation of vegetables in this section.” The catalog featured elaborate front covers, printed in color. Frotscher boasted, “My Manual is in such demand that I have to increase the number of the issue every year, which shows that it is appreciated.”

At the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, held in New Orleans in 1885, Richard received a “First Degree of Merit” award for “Best Cabbage, Winter Variety” . Subsequent printings of the Garden Manual included a facsimile of the award certificate.

Reproduction of Frotcher’s Cotton Exposition award certificate

15-17 Dumaine Street

Frotscher’s store and warehouse occupied the building at 15-17 Dumaine Street in the Vieux Carré. The 1895 printing of his catalog mentions the change in addresses that took place in New Orleans that year. Prior to 1895, houses and buildings were numbered by building rather than block. Thus, 15 Dumaine Street was fifteen buildings from the start of the street at the river. The city changed addresses to coincide with block numbers. Therefore, 15 Dumaine became 521.

Illustration of Richard Frotscher Seed Company building, 15 Dumaine Street.

Second Generation.

Business was booming for Richard in the late 1880s. In 1887, he opened a storefront and warehouse at 518-520 Gravier Street. He brought in his nephew, Joseph Steckler, as its business manager. Frotscher put his daughter (who went by “Mary T. Frotscher,” rather than “Maria Theresa,” in charge of development. The additional space allowed for significant expansion of the business, as well as offering Mary the opportunity to grow as a botanist in her own right. Joseph in turn encouraged his brother, Richard, to join the business. Mary and the Steckler brothers became the second generation of the company.

Advertisement in the Daily Picayune, Saturday, January 12, 1882, for Frotscher’s Seeds.

Richard Frotscher died in 1896. Emilie passed within days of her husband. Mary and her cousins had been ready for Richard’s passing. They re-organized the company under Joseph Steckler’s name, becoming J. Steckler Seed Co. Mary was the company’s President, Joseph, Vice-President, and Richard Steckler, Secretary-Treasurer. The business continued operating as it had when Frotscher was alive. Their 1897 advertising assured customers they would continue the patriarch’s sales practices, “on his same liberal terms.” To make sure customers remained with the re-branded business, they sent out their first catalog free of charge.

Advertisement for J. Steckler Seed Company in the Times-Democrat, Sunday February 7, 1897.

The second generation didn’t rest! They expanded, first acquiring a warehouse at 306-312 Bank Place. Bank Place was a one-block street that ran from Gravier to Natchez Streets in the Central Business District. It’s now named, “Picayune Place,” because it ran behind the loading dock of the Times-Picayune newspaper’s building on Camp Street. (That building is now the Eliza Jane Hotel.) After expanding into the Bank Alley building, the company sold the original location in the Vieux Carré to a partnership that opened its own seed business there. J. Steckler Seed Co. made it clear in their advertising they were the true successors to Mary’s father.

In addition to expanding the original seed business, the Steckler Brothers acquired land in Faubourg St. John, between Esplanade Avenue and Moss Street, across from St. Louis Cemetery No. 3. They stated in the 1902 edition of the catalog, “…We now handle Belgian Hares, Berkshire Swine and thoroughbred Chickens of standard varieties. As the proper breeding of these requires much ground, we have established what is known in more pretentious terms as a ‘Farm.'”

Steckler Seed Company catalog, 1956

The Steckler Brothers built on their uncle’s reputation in the seed and horticulture businesses. They networked through various professional societies, as well as civic organizations. It was logical that they would involve themselves with city beautification projects and with New Orleans City Park.

The J. Steckler Seed Company continued into the 1960s. Frotscher’s vegetable varieties and pecans continue to be sold to this day.


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