Back in 1847, before Oregon was a state, and Iowa entrepreneur named Henderson Luelling traveled to Oregon with a wagon full of fruit tree seedlings and, in effect, delivered the tree fruit industry to the West.
Henderson’s younger brother, Seth, followed in 1850, settling in Milwaukie, Oregon, where he established a commercial tree fruit nursery, and curiously, changed the spelling of his name.
According to the Oregon Historical Society, Ah Bing was Seth Lewelling’s Manchurian foreman and his close friend who managed 30 Chinese farm workers. Accounts differ as to whether it was Seth or Bing who developed the Bing cherry variety at Seth’s nursery, but the name honors the talented, tall Chinese foreman.
That recognition is especially notable at a time when some white Americans felt threatened by the growing presence of Chinese Americans in the workforce. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 halted Chinese immigration and sanctioned the deportation of legal residents.
Bing worked for Seth for 35 years, the length of his contract, and in 1889 he returned to visit family in China. But the Exclusion Act demanded that Chinese Americans who left the country had to obtain stringent certification to re-enter. Bing did not return to the United States.
But the cherry he helped to cultivate is still today the most produced variety of sweet cherry in the United States.