We’re celebrating 100 years of business in 2023. Following is a summary of how Albert Lea Seed started, written in 1986 by the late Lou Ehrhardt, founder of the company and grandfather of current company president Mac Ehrhardt (edited for length and clarity).
My father-in-law, Clarence Wedge, founder of Wedge Nursery, started a small seed business in downtown Albert Lea around 1913. In 1917, he asked his son, Ralph, to manage it. But when Ralph got drafted during WWI, they had to close the seed business down.
After the war, Ralph and a fellow named Paul Petran started it back up. They were in Gulbrandson Implement Building [now Wells Fargo Bank’s parking lot]. I worked for them during the spring of 1923 at a salary $125 a month. I liked the work, but in June they didn’t need me so I went on the road selling nursery stock on commission for Wedge Nursery. Ralph and Paul had operated for two or three years and really weren’t making any money. Paul got out, taking over a small seed tree seed operation, and Ralph kept the seed business.
In August 1923, Ralph suggested I buy the retail part of the business, and he would retain the wholesale side and the clipper cleaning machine. He wanted $1000 for the good will and had about $2,000 in inventory.
My son, George, joined me in the Seed House around 1947. In about 1950, the highway department abandoned Stevens Street as Highway 65 to Minneapolis and built the present highway, leaving our location at the time on a back road with no access to the present highway. We bought a lot on Fenton Avenue and built there [now Eastside Laundry]. We operated our sales from there and used the old Seed House as a cleaning plant and warehouse. After a few years, the present service road was put in, so we built the General Trading Building [now Floor Tech] and moved over there. We had our sales in the new building and continued to use the old seed house right behind it [no longer there] for warehousing and cleaning.
We only grew hybrid seed corn for a few years. We were growing Minnesota numbers developed by the U of MN, but they were a little early and didn’t yield up so we discontinued processing seed corn. We got into a pretty good corn business by selling some Iowa numbers at $6 a bushel, with 1 bushel free with 10.
Photos: Our original location in Gulbrandson Hardware, downtown Albert Lea (top of page); George and Lou Ehrhardt mixing seed (circa 1950)