Johnny Appleseed: An Unlikely Entrepreneur

by Joe Plemon on August 1, 2011

Johnny Appleseed was born John Chapman on September 26, 1774. He was an American pioneer nurseryman and missionary who became an American legend while still living, not only because of his great leadership in conservation, but also because of his kind and generous ways.  According to this definition of entrepreneur: “A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so”, Johnny was also an entrepreneur.

Johnny, of course, gained fame because of his penchant for planting apple trees. His life and the legend that surrounds it make interesting reading…and some great entrepreneurial lessons.

Johnny pursued his dreams.

Growing up on a small farm in Massachusetts, Johnny’s favorite place was his father’s apple orchard. Not surprisingly, he loved the apples. When settlers passed by with tales of fertile soils, he became inspired to plant apple seeds throughout the frontier. At 18, Johnny went west to pursue his dream.

How about you? What is your dream? Are you actively pursuing it? If not, what is holding you back?

Johnny had a plan.

Whereas the popular perception of Johnny Appleseed is a man who strolled along broadcasting apple seeds willy nilly, he was actually quite organized. Having been apprenticed as an orchardist, Johnny planted nurseries, built fences around them to protect them from livestock and left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares. Johnny would then return every year or two to tend the nursery and settle up with the nursery caretaker. Appleseed would often barter, accepting corn meal, cash or used clothing as means of payment.

Do you have a plan that will allow you to monetize your dreams? If so, how is your plan progressing? If not, why not? Hint: offer to buy lunch for someone who is already doing what you are dream of doing. Ask this person to share how he built his business. Learn and keep notes. Of course if you might be competing directly with this person, find someone who lives outside of the competition radius.

Johnny used ingenuity

Johnny shrewdly realized that more apple trees would bring more business to the cider mills, so he was negotiated with them for free apple seeds.

Do you think outside the box? Samuel Brannon became California’s first millionaire during the gold rush of the late 1840s, but not by panning for gold. Brannon sold shovels, picks and supplies to the wide eyed miners. Is it possible that an ingenious solution for your dilemma is right in front of you?

Johnny was generous

Life is not all about getting. It is also about giving. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Johnny Appleseed may have been generous to a fault…he wore the most ragged of the clothing he received in barter, giving the best to others. He seldom wore shoes. Because he had no home to maintain, he had more to give.

Are you generous? Where does “giving” rate in your budget? Here is a thought: put giving first then learn to live on what is left after you give. God will help you do so.

Johnny lived on less than he made.

He might not have made much, but with his frugal life style he needed little. Appleseed managed his money well, generally keeping enough with him to pay his way and give to all he deemed needy.

Do you live on less than you make? If not, have you cut your lifestyle to the bare bones? I am not recommending that you go without shoes, but eating out, driving new cars and paying for satellite TV don’t fit when you are spending more than you make.

Johnny stuck with it.

Appleseed began planting apple trees when he was 18 years old; he was still doing so at the time of his death at age 70.

Do you stick with it? When pursuing your passion, have you given up prematurely? There is no such thing as an overnight success… Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers”, shares his research that very few people achieve excellence without putting in at least 10,000 hours of preparation.


Johnny Appleseed was not your typical entrepreneur, but he was nevertheless very successful. He was a man of his own mind; he did what he loved, he was ingenious, generous and loved by all. His life made a difference as he changed his world. If you follow those same life principles, you too will make a difference in your world.

What specific attributes of Johnny Appleseed would you like to develop in your own life?

This is a modified version of a staff post I wrote for Christian PF

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter August 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Great post Joe, I love how you gleaned those important lessons from his life story – he truly was an inspiring individual!


cashflowmantra August 1, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Wonderful post. I didn’t realize all of this information. Well presented. Also, I loved the book “Outliers.”


krantcents August 1, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I am working on the ingenuity all the time. Who knows, we will see! BTW, I love Malcolm Gladwell’s books. I love his way of observing and reporting or writing. I am starting to read his articles in The New Yorker (his day job).


Money Matters Guy August 1, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Great article Joe. I love looking for financial lessons in unusual places.


Emily August 2, 2011 at 7:45 am

I never considered JA to be an entrepreneur, but all of what you said makes sense. 🙂


Emily August 2, 2011 at 7:46 am

Great analogies! Never would’ve thought of them myself.


Derek Courom August 3, 2011 at 3:19 am

The best practice I always share to my friends who are budding entrepreneurs is to think outside the box and to live less than what they make. When you want your business to continue soaring, always come up with new ideas so you won’t be left behind. And live less indeed – You reap what you sow but don’t reap everything. Save some for the rainy days.


Adam W. Prillis August 3, 2011 at 5:34 am

Nice example of an entrepreneur, thanks a lot 🙂


Jo August 3, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Great story, always good to learn about interesting people. Giving is very important, to a certain point though…


joeplemon August 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm

@Peter — I love reading about these “heroes of yesteryear”. Usually, there is a good reason why they were revered in their time and still remembered today.

@cashflow — Thanks!

@krantcents — I am not at all surprised to learn that you are working on ingenuity all of the time.

@Money Matters Guy — Thanks…and me too.

@Emily — Me neither…that is why the title is “Unlikely” Entrepreneur.

@Derek — You listed a bunch of great tips…which would be a great outline for a blog post that maybe you should write.

@Adam — Thanks.

@Jo — Just curious: at what point does giving become too much?


Squirrelers August 4, 2011 at 12:04 am

Great post, Joe! I like the Gladwell reference, and agree that it takes time and perseverence to achieve our goals.

As I get older, I’m thinking more about the generosity aspect of things. There are many ways to be generous, but no matter what form it takes, it starts from being genuinely interested in helping and not expecting something back. I’m working on this.


Jo August 4, 2011 at 11:26 am

Joe: imho – when by giving you hurt yourself or people you should care about, e.g. your child is barefooted but you’ve donated to whatever cause is closed to your heart ( I know the example is a bit “too much” but have heard of people like this)


joeplemon August 4, 2011 at 2:27 pm

@ Squirrelers — Seems like I remember a post you wrote about the giving spirit your daughter has. You must be doing something right in the generosity department if your children are developing that mindset. Keep it up!

@barak — A noble dream! My dream, while it includes making this world a better place to live, is more to prepare people for the wonders of the next world. Seventy years or so is good. Eternity is better.

@Jo — A wise saying is “charity begins at home.” I believe it. And I DON’T believe in causes per se; I believe in people.


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