From 1885 to 1969, Oscar H. Will and Company, of Bismarck, North Dakota, produced an annual catalog. Beginning in 1908 colorful custom illustrations graced the front and back covers. The illustrations reflect the times in which they were published – what was popular nationally and what concerned people locally. Early catalogs, for example, promised new settlers that the vegetables, flowers, and fruit they grew would be colorful, healthy, and abundant. In the late 1920s the illustrations reflected an Art Deco sensibility. Catalogs from the 1930s and 1940s have a slightly nostalgic feel as the first generation of North Dakota settlers passed away. Throughout the years numerous catalog covers paid tribute to the original farmers of the land, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people, from whom Oscar Will collected many hardy seed varieties.
The Oscar H. Will and Company catalogs represent a significant contribution to both North Dakota’s horticultural and business history. In addition, they stand on their own as lovely works of art.