Government programs aimed at providing necessities to the public are not new. The program that provided the stimulus payments to the public comes to mind. No matter how you feel about the politics of the program, most would admit the intent was to increase the amount of money in circulation to improve the economy.

The federal government had a different program during the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

A similar program actually started in the early 1800s when U.S. ambassadors were asked to send seed of popular plants in the countries where they served back to the United States, The patent office started distributing these seeds in 1836.

That might explain where some of our invasive plant species came from.

By about 1900, the program included seeds developed in the United States and a unique method for distribution.

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The Congressional Seed Distribution did pretty much what the name would imply. The U.S. Department of Agriculture prepared packets of seeds but most of the distribution was left to the members of the United States House of Representatives who could use their own discretion to determine who in their state would get seed packets.

Some congressmen mailed the seeds using official government mail to anyone who asked for a packet, according to the historic record. Others distributed the seed to party faithful and others used mail carriers to hand out the seed where it looked like they could be used.

But Rep. Louis Hanna from North Dakota had another plan for the seeds destined for North Dakota.

Hanna announced in January 1910 that all garden seeds allocated to his office would be distributed by farmers. However, the flower seeds would be distributed to the schools of North Dakota.

North Dakota had been allotted 2,000 packets of flower seeds that year but had about 4,000 schools. Hanna reportedly purchased the additional seed packets necessary so that “every school in the state may be encouraged to cultivate a few flowers in and around the school house.”

During this same era, Jamestown Public Schools maintained gardens along the railroad tracks on land that is now the parking lots along the tracks on both sides of First Avenue.

There is no direct evidence where the seeds for those gardens originated, but I think we can assume some likely were part of the Congressional Seed Distribution.

The program’s biggest year was 1910 with more than 60 million seed packets distributed. The program ended in 1923.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at