HISTORY OF JERSEY GIANTS
Compiled by the National Jersey Giant Club – Revised February 2013
Robert L. Vaughn, Secretary
Jersey Giants were developed by John and Thomas Black sometime between 1870 and 1890 in Burlington County, near the town of Jobstown, New Jersey, USA. The Black brothers as well as others in that vicinity specialized in growing market poultry and did a considerable amount of caponizing. Orders mainly from New York City and Philadelphia called for heavy roasting birds, the heavier the better. To obtain the desired heavy carcasses, the Black brothers used a series of crosses with Black Javas, Black Langshans, and Dark Brahmas. As a result of a number of years of selecting extra large breeding birds with a generally conforming type, the Black brothers made quite a reputation for themselves with their big roasting chickens. Very little attention was given to color, so the birds had a great color variation.
About 1895, the name “Giants” was first bestowed upon these birds. Some time later, an expert caponizer was asked to locate a pen of the largest birds possible and found them at the Black brothers farm. He saw that the birds were uniform in size and type, and suggested that they be named “Black’s Giants” after the Black brothers, not because of their color, though they were predominately black. Later the name was changed to simply Black Giants. Dexter P. Upham of Belmar, New Jersey, an early breeder interested in improvement of Black Giants is credited with adding the name Jersey to the Giant name in about 1917 in honor of the state in which they originated. In 1921 the American Association of Jersey Black Giant Breeders Clubs was formed and the name Jersey Black Giant was adopted.
It was also about 1917 to 1919, when renowned breeder U. L. Meloney, Marcy Farms, Matawan, New Jersey and others having refined the breed to more uniform standards began exhibiting their Jersey Black Giants so the public could see for themselves the magnitude of these birds. The turkey industry was dwindling, a substitute was needed, and Jersey Black Giants appeared to be their rival as a roasting table bird. Of course, commercial broad breasted turkeys soon were to come on the scene and retained superiority as the premier table bird.
Meanwhile though, Jersey Giants were being bred to a uniform size, type, and color as well as having the characteristics of steady and relatively rapid maturity, hardiness, strength of constitution, gigantic frame, and ability to forage. Cockerels weighing 9 pounds at 6 months of age, Capons weighing 12 pounds at 7 months, and pullets starting to lay at 6 months averaging 135 to 160 eggs per hen per year. They had everything. Jersey Black Giants had arrived.
The American Poultry Association recognized Jersey Black Giants as a breed in 1922.
White Jersey Giants originated from white “sports” of the black variety in the flocks of several breeders in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. No one breeder claiming to be, or credited with being the one and only originator.
White Jersey Giants could have been developed earlier, because there were surely plenty of “sports” from the Blacks to choose from. However, prior to this, white birds of any breed were generally not in fashion. Early breeders were skeptical about the vitality of birds with white plumage, and the general impression prevailed that they lacked vigor. This prejudice in all breeds was being overcome quickly about the time that White Giants were being developed as a separate variety.
Some early strains contained crosses with White Rocks, White Orpingtons, or other white breeds, but these crosses were not successful. True White Giant’s are white ‘sports’ from Black Giants with no other breeds crossed in. At one time, they were so popular that their supporters formed the International White Giant Club.
The American Poultry Association recognized White Jersey Giants as a variety in 1947.
The Blue Giants as we know them today originated in 1981 near Bern Kansas, USA on the farm of Mrs. R. E. (Golda) Miller. Mrs. Miller had been raising Jersey Giants for more than 40 years and had been recognized for many years as the premier breeder of Black and White Jersey Giants.
It started with a White Giant pullet that had some gray dusting on the feathers on her back. This bird was a “sport” from the Miller White Jersey Giant flock. Mrs. Miller wasn’t too interested in experimenting but had a friend nearby in Nebraska who was. Leo Prokop had been trying with no success to develop a Blue Jersey Giant variety. He took this pullet and mated her to a Black Jersey Giant male. This first generation was a conglomeration of colors, some of which were splash. These females were again mated to a Black Jersey Giant male. Out of this nucleus, the Blue variety quickly became established.
No blue birds of other breeds had been introduced, therefore these were pure Giants.
The American Poultry Association recognized Blue Jersey Giants as a variety in 2003.
NOTE- In the 1890’s the American Poultry Association recognized a breed called “Jersey Blues”. There is no indication that the Jersey Blues had any connection in the development of the Jersey Giant breed. The origin of Jersey Blues is not readily available, and their standard weight was 3 pounds less than that of Jersey Giants. By the early 1900’s they were dropped from the American Poultry Association Standard. Some isolated flocks of Jersey Blues may have survived, but should not be confused with the Jersey Giants as we know them today.