During the 19th century it was a popular commercial apple due to the ruggedness and keeping qualities of the fruit, but as packing and transportation techniques improved the variety fell out of favour, replaced by varieties considered to have better flavour. It was known to fruit growers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a "mortgage lifter" because it was a reliable producer and the fruit would not drop from the trees until very late in the season. By mid-twentieth century it was mostly used as a process apple rather than a table apple, and orchards were being pushed out for more popular varieties.
The variety is now very rare to nonexistent in the commercial trade. One of the few places where the Ben Davis is still grown is Oak Glen, California.
The Ben Davis was crossbred with the McIntosh to create the Cortland, which has been a very successful pie apple.
A superficially similar variety known as "Gano" or "Black Ben Davis" appeared in parts of the American South (notably Arkansas and Virginia) in the 1880s. Its exact relation to the original Ben Davis is unknown.