Pumpkins, members of the genus cucurbita, originated in Central America in 5,500 BC. However, the origin of wild pumpkin varieties is uncertain. Some have speculated that they were brought from Asia with the first prehistoric settlers of the Americas during the last Ice Age.
The giant pumpkins we see today are a fairly new occurrence originating from selective breeding during the last century. Nearly 75 years ahead of his time, William Warnock was the first grower of giant pumpkins. At the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, MO he presented a 403 pound giant! Due to the great depression and two world wars, giant pumpkins wouldn’t gain notoriety again for another 72 years.
In 1976, Bob Ford, a first year grower from Croatsville, PA crossed Hungarian Mammoth Giants and Mammoth Chile seeds. He used a fertilizer program custom built for him by his friend Bob Peters, the founder of Peters fertilizer. Bob Peters tested the soil and recommended a 20-10-10 soluble fertilizer program. (Bob’s Market works closely with JR Peters Lab to test our soils and develop the custom fertilizers we use in our production.) At the close of summer Bob & his friend Herb Walton measured the circumference of his pumpkin at 10 feet 5 inches or 125”. They took the fruit to the Solanco & Bloomsburg Fairs winning first place ribbons at every event. The first weigh-off indicated the fruit weighed 477 lbs at harvest, but Bob still needed to get his fruit on an official scale. He took his behemoth to the Cornell State Pumpkin contest where it officially weighed in at 451 pounds. For the first time in 73 years a grower broke William Warnock’s 403 lb record that stood since 1904. Bob Ford’s 451 lb. pumpkin had won him first place, $500.00, and eventually a place in The Guinness Book of World Records.
Howard Dill was the breeder that developed the variety used today for competition giant pumpkins – The Atlantic Giant. Dill’s Atlantic Giant seed produced the first 600 pound pumpkin in 1984. Dill was also the first grower to focus on the genetics of the seed to cross varieties to produce bigger fruits with tougher skins and better color.
In recent years we have seen a number of milestones when it comes to massively monumental melons. In 1998 the first pumpkin to weigh over 1,000 pounds was grown by Gary Burke. It weighed in at 1,092 pounds. In 2006, at 1,502 pounds, we saw the first 1,500 pound pumpkin. It was grown by Ron Wallace of Rhode Island who is also the current world record holder. On September 28, 2012 he brought a giant pumpkin to a fair in Topsfield, MA that weighed a whopping 2,009 pounds! It was also the first pumpkin to weigh more than a ton.
It may not be the space race, but the continued quest for consecutively colossal cucurbitas has led to advancements in the horticultural industry. Growing giant pumpkins has helped pioneer the use of micronutrient fertilizers. Also propagation techniques and the use of plastic mulches have benefitted from the growth of the gargantuan gourds.
Fun Fact: Giant pumpkins are the largest fruits on earth!