Savage Desert, American Garden: citrus labels and the selling of California, 1877-1929

Henry Knight Lozano

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In 1877, a year after the railroad reached Southern California, the first shipment of California oranges left the Los Angeles groves of William Wolfskill, bound for St. Louis, Missouri. The box-ends were branded ‘Wolfskill California Oranges’, ensuring that the geographical origins of the fruit were emphasised from the very beginning of their exportation to the Midwest and East. During the 1880s, the innovations of irrigation and refrigerated cars combined with new railroads, massive in-migration and land development to turn California into, in Douglas Sackman’s words, an ‘orange empire’. By 1900, this empire had surpassed Florida as the United States’ leading producer of fruit, while, as one historian explains, ‘the orange crop had passed the cash returns from gold’ found in California. From virtually none a few decades earlier, the average American in 1914 ate over 40 oranges per year, and orange juice had become part of the standard American breakfast. By then some thirty thousand railroad carloads—approximately twelve million orange crates—valued at $20 million, were steaming east from the Golden State each year. Adorning these crates were, in the words of Kevin Starr, ‘the inventive labels’ whose ‘selling of California along with oranges as an image in the national imagination’ are the focus of this article.
Original languageEnglish
JournalU.S. Studies Online: The BAAS Postgraduate Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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