Bennett’s Giant Soldier

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John Withee acquired this bean in the early 1970s from Elwyn Meader of the University of New Hampshire. Elwyn Meader was a professor of horticulture and a prolific plant breeder, a hobby which continued well after his retirement in 1966. John Withee described Professor Meader’s involvement with Wanigan Associates project in 1976: “Professor Meader continues to be active in many horticultural areas as a consultant. His generous help and encouragement has kept this project on course.” In the 1930s, Elwyn Meader was a student of Professor J.R. Hepler at the University of New Hampshire. By the 1950s, Elwyn Meader was contributing newly developed vegetable varieties to the seed company started by Professor J. R. Hepler’s son, Billy Hepler. After the Billy Hepler Seed Company dissolved in the early 1960s, Professor Meader attempted to preserve those varieties offered in their catalog including the ‘Giant Soldier’ bean. John Withee described ‘Bennett’s Giant Soldier’ in his Heirloom Beans catalog as a Billy Hepler Seed Company introduction from the 1940s, likely referring to the ‘Giant Soldier’ listed by Billy Hepler in the 1948, 1949, 1950, and 1952 catalogs. In the 1952 catalog ‘Giant Soldier’ was described as an improved soldier bean differentiated from other soldier varieties by its larger beans, higher yields, and red soldier figure (as opposed to the typically brown soldier figure).

Soldier beans were described in John Withee’s interview with Horticulture Magazine: “...the ‘Soldier’ bean, white like Jacob’s Cattle and similar in size, but marked around the eye with a distinct maroon figure resembling a soldier standing at attention.”