Miracle-Gro Founder Dies at Age 89

February 4, 2005 - 12:21

Horace Hagedorn, founder of Miracle-Gro plant food, former executive and director emeritus of The Scotts Company and beloved philanthropist, died Jan. 31, 2005 at the age of 89 at his home in Long Island, N.Y.

Hagedorn was behind the popular Miracle-Gro brand, which includes the blue-colored water-soluble fertilizer used by millions of gardeners in North America and around the world. 

After building this successful business, he merged Miracle-Gro with The Scotts Company in 1995. Since his retirement in 1997, Hagedorn has been a tireless and generous supporter of dozens of grassroots and charitable organizations, many in the Long Island area, with a particular interest in causes that help children, families and education. 

Although Scotts was founded in 1868, its associates considered Hagedorn to be one of the Company's founders, according to The Scotts Company. 

"Horace was a creative genius, and the success of this business, as well as the lawn and garden industry, is due to his energy, drive and insight," said Jim Hagedorn, one of Hagedorn's sons and chairman and chief executive officer of The Scotts Company. "He thoroughly enjoyed growing his business, which today employs over 7,000 people. He also was zealous about returning his good fortunes to those who needed a helping hand. His passion will be missed in the lawn and garden industry and by the many people he touched." 

Hagedorn was a long-time resident of Port Washington, N.Y., and a native New Yorker. He was born on the upper west side of Manhattan on March 18, 1915 and lived in New York City until relocating to Port Washington in 1943. He was a fierce sailing competitor and sailed until age 84. 

Hagedorn attended the University of Pennsylvania and began his career selling radio time for the National Broadcasting Corporation in 1936. He later followed his interests to advertising, which included having his own advertising agency. In 1946, Hagedorn was key in the development of a long-running radio show, “The Big Story,” about the heroics of journalists. The program was later on television and remained on the air until the early 1960s. 

One of Hagedorn's advertising clients in 1950 was Otto Stern, who owned a nursery business in Geneva, N.Y. Through their business relationship and later friendship, Hagedorn and Stern became partners in a business to promote gardening products and plants. 

The two men invested $2,000 to introduce a new water-soluble plant food that provided "miraculous" plant growth. To extend the health of their mail-order plants, they shipped a small packet of food with each plant. Hagedorn convinced Stern that, while nursery stock is only bought once, a water-soluble fertilizer would ensure more sales because it is used over and over again. This was the start of the Miracle-Gro business.  

Understanding that his product could have a profound and positive influence on the gardening industry, Mr. Hagedorn worked to build trust, loyalty and recognition for the Miracle-Gro brand. "Miracle-Gro doesn't have customers," he would say, "it has fans."

 

He knew that consumer loyalty was created through testimonials and demonstrations, but, most importantly, through advertising that made a practical as well as emotional connection with the consumer. In 1951, he placed the first full-page ad for Miracle-Gro in the New York Herald Tribune. Based on its success, ads ran in over 300 newspapers in the U.S. for decades. In the late 1970s, with the impact of television, he introduced the company's first TV advertising, starring himself, and, within a short time, recognized that this important job belonged to a professional spokesman, starting with John Cameron Swayze and, shortly thereafter, James Whitmore. 

Through his leadership, Hagedorn took Miracle-Gro from a small mail-order company to a mainstream profitable corporation over the ensuing decades, making it the number one and most well known plant food around the world with approximately $125 million in sales by the mid-1990s.  

In 1995, at the age of 80, he again advanced the gardening business by merging Miracle-Gro with The Scotts Company, creating the leading consumer lawn and garden business in the world. 

In 1997, Mr. Hagedorn resigned from the day-to-day operations at Scotts to focus on his charitable work. Although Mr. Hagedorn was a natural-born entrepreneur, perhaps his greatest gift was his spirit and sense of caring. His personal philosophy hinged on one belief — sharing. That year, he expressed his philosophy this way: "You can't keep taking all the good things out of the earth; you've got to put something back. You can't continue to reap material success without giving back to the community." 

And he gave back to the community many times over. He created the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund within the Long Island Community Foundation to assist children, families and the greater community. He was a benefactor to many organizations, including The Hagedorn Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Center at North Shore University Hospital (Long Island); the Hofstra University Center for Children, Families and the Law; Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus; Adelphi University; The Hagedorn Family Resource Center (Hempstead, New York); Sustainable Long Island; and Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington (New York). Through the Hagedorn Family Foundation, he touched the lives of inner-city children through the Farms for City Kids program, which offers a rural teamwork experience, and two Miracle-Gro Kids programs in Brooklyn, New York and Columbus, Ohio, that provide comprehensive educational and social support, along with college tuition.  

In his latter years, Hagedorn became involved in the production of a documentary about his life. With little experience in video production, Hagedorn contributed the same passion and concentration to the editing of the video. "Meet Mr. Miracle-Gro" had its premiere in August 2004 at Hofstra University and raised over $1.5 million for Sustainable Long Island. The program was later aired on the Long Island public television station. In his last months, Hagedorn continued working with Ron Rudaitis, the director of "Meet Mr. Miracle-Gro", on a film about children with cochlear implants.  

Hagedorn was predeceased by his first wife, Peggy. Together they had six children, Peter Hagedorn of Glen Cove, New York; Susan Hagedorn of Boulder, Colo.; Jim Hagedorn of Sands Point, New York; Katherine Hagedorn Littlefield of Skillman, New Jersey; Robert Hagedorn of Mercer Island, Wash.; and Paul Hagedorn of Atlanta, Ga. Hagedorn is survived by his wife of 19 years, Amy, and also leaves four stepchildren, 22 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. 

His son, Jim Hagedorn, is chairman, chief executive officer and president of The Scotts Company. His daughter, Katherine Hagedorn Littlefield, is a member of the Board of Directors of The Scotts Company. His daughter, Susan Hagedorn, is the chairperson of the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation. 

The family requests that memorials be made to:

Sustainable Long Island

In Memory of Horace Hagedor

55 Hilton Avenue

Garden City, New York 11530

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