Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Ferry, Dexter M.

Dexter Mason Ferry was the operator of the D.M. Ferry & Company seed distributor, and responsible for making Detroit a leader in the seed industry. Ferry was born in Lowville, New York on August 8, 1833, where he spent his school years. In 1854, he moved to Detroit to work as an errand boy at the stationery firm of S.D. Elwood & Company. He was quickly promoted to salesman and then bookkeeper.

In 1856, Ferry bought his way into a small seed business, M.T. Gardner and Company, as a junior partner with Milo T. Gardner and Eber F. Church. In 1865, Ferry bought out Gardner’s share and two years later, Church retired, leaving Ferry in full control of the company. He renamed it D.M. Ferry and Company and began introducing innovations for the seed-vending industry. Ferry only sold fresh seeds, which increased germination and gave D.M. Ferry and Company a reputation for quality. He was also among the first to sell seed in smaller packets with smaller plots of land in mind.

The company continued to grow, and in 1879, D.M. Ferry and Company was incorporated, absorbing the Detroit Seed Company, with Ferry as president. Business became very successful but the company was crippled when a fire destroyed the warehouse in 1886. Ferry, however, did not panic; he bought seeds from other sources and absorbed two other seed companies in order to fulfill customer orders. Within four years, Ferry had built a new warehouse and was doing 1.5 million dollars in business each year. By the early 1900s, the D.M. Ferry and Company was supplying seeds to 160,000 retail outlets. In 1930 the company merged with C.C. Morse & Co., creating the name that exists today, Ferry-Morse. 

The seed business gave Dexter Ferry incredible wealth. He served on the boards of several financial institutions and made charitable contributions to a number of organizations, including what became the Detroit Institute of Arts. As a prominent member of the Republican Party, he lost a bid for governor in 1900. He was married to Adeline Elizabeth Miller with whom he had a son, Dexter, Jr.

Ferry Street, named after Dexter Ferry in 1874, is now a historic district east of Woodward Ave. The Ferry warehouse on Brush Street, between Lafayette and Monroe streets, is today an integral part of Greektown. Dexter Ferry died in his bed on Nov. 10, 1907 and is buried in Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery.



D.M. Ferry and Company seed catalog cover, 1920

D.M. Ferry and Company poster, 1900

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