History of the Hass Avocado
The story of the Hass avocado begins in the early 1900s when Mr. A.R. Rideout, a Southern California maverick and pioneer in avocados, planted some seeds that were from an unknown or undetermined Persea americana (avocado) subspecies. (He obtained seeds anywhere he could, even from restaurant food scraps and on the streets.)
In 1926, he sold one of the saplings that grew from those seeds to Mr. Rudolph Hass, a local mail carrier. Mr. Hass planted the tree in the orchard at his La Habra Heights home. He hoped to graft another variety onto it, but grafting efforts didn't take. He was about to fell the tree when his children pleaded with him not to, as they preferred the taste of the avocados grown on that tree to that of the Fuerte, the predominant variety back then.
The tree yielded lots of high-quality fruit, so Mr. Hass called it Hass after his family name and patented it in the States in 1935. Also that year, he contracted with a nursery owner in Whittier, Mr. Harold Brokaw, to grow and promote Hass avocados. The two split the resulting income, 25% for Mr. Hass, 75% for Mr. Brokaw.
Because Hass trees bore more fruit and matured at a different time of year than the Fuerte, Mr. Brokaw had great success, selling out his crops every year.
By the 1950s, about 25 different avocado varieties were being commercially packed and shipped in California. Fuerte avocados comprised more than 2/3 of production.
Mr. Hass' patent expired in 1952, the same year he passed away. By that time, the Hass avocado's popularity was catching up to the Fuerte's. Consumers preferred its richer, nuttier taste, and grocers appreciated its long shelf life and durability.
In the late 1970s, the Hass avocado finally replaced the Fuerte as the leading California variety. Today, 80% of all avocados consumed worldwide are Hass. Unfortunately, Mr. Rudolph Hass never knew how significant his avocado variety became to the global industry.
Late in its life, the original tree to which every Hass avocado is tied, the Hass Mother Tree, developed a root fungus and in 2002, at age 76, it died.
The Persea Americana
The Persea americana (avocado) originated in South-Central America between 7,000 and 5,000 B.C., but several millennia passed before the Aztecs cultivated it. They named it ahuacatl.
The Spanish, who had difficulty pronouncing the word, changed it to aguacate, which eventually morphed into avocado in English.
In 1871, Judge R.B. Ord of Santa Barbara introduced avocados to the U.S. with trees from Mexico. Since the 1900s, growers, enthusiasts and researchers have searched for improved varieties. While many new avocados were created, few had significant commercial impact. The Hass, however, was an exception, evolving into a major player.
Today, most domestic avocados are grown in California, home to about 90% of the nation's crop. Most are harvested on 60,000 acres between San Luis Obispo and the Mexican border, by about 6,800 growers. San Diego County, which produces 60% of all the state's avocados, is known as the nation's avocado capital.