The U.S. Postal Worker Who Invented Hass Avocados

It’s likely you’ve been simply enjoying your guacamole or avocado toast without ever giving a thought as to where it came from. In the early 1900s, avocados were being grown commercially in California, but they didn't look like the avocados we see in the produce section today. The avocado industry then was dominated by the Fuerte variety — a large, green, smooth-skinned fruit. Then, in 1926, along came Rudolph Hass, a mailman in La Habra Heights, Calif., whose true passion was botany. He had attempted some experiments with avocados, but when they didn't pan out, he simply left the trees to grow wild in his yard. They're quite pretty, after all. Later, his children were playing in the yard when they noticed that the trees had grown fruit after all, but it was unusual. These fruits were smaller, darker, and had knobby skin, but they were delicious. Upon closer examination, these avocados offered even more advantages over the Fuerte variety than just taste. Their thicker, rougher skin meant that the fruit had a much longer shelf life and could be transported with minimal bruising. The trees were hardy, and after two or three years, they yielded a startling amount of fruit. They also had a longer harvest season than those available at the time. Rudolph Hass filed a patent for his avocado in 1935, but at that time, patenting a tree was a novel idea. Although he was granted the patent, there was little that could be done to stop other fruit growers from using Hass avocado trees. They could simply graft a Hass tree onto another tree, making it almost impossible to file a patent violation. As a result, Hass failed to get rich, earning only about $3,800 in royalties from his patented avocado, even as their superior quality propelled Hass avocados to the top of the industry.