Thursday, May 5, 2011

Earl Fruit Company

Even though I've been building an Earl Fruit Company packing house for my shelf layout, I still don't know that much about the company.

Earl Fruit Company seemed to be everywhere in California; all the Sanborn maps I looked at seemed to have one Earl Fruit Company plant present. Whether in a hamlet like Wrights, Walnut Grove, or Whittier, they had packing houses. I'd first thought they were a spinoff of the Southern Pacific, but then heard connections with the Armour and Di Giorgio companies. Luckily, I just saw this Bancroft Library interview with two of the Di Giorgio family about the company's origins. It's a great read both for details about how the packing house and fruit auction business worked.

Earl Fruit Company was actually started by Edwin Tobias Earl, who invented one ventilated refrigerator car. (I imagine it wasn't the first considering that the South Pacific Coast had some of his cars well before the company appeared.) Earl was involved with exporting fresh fruit east, but needed an inexpensive way to carry the fruit. At the same time, the large meat packers were shipping lots of meat in refrigerator cars to California, but were sending the cars back empty. Earl got the Armour family to buy his company, and the meat reefers started travelling back east with fruit. Armour owned the transportation, owned the packing houses, and owned the packing box makers, so they had lots of control over the prices paid to the farmers.

In 1910, the Supreme Court forced the meat packers to divest their refrigerator cars because of their monopoly power, and the railroads took over the refrigerator car business. Joseph Di Giorgio, a kid from Sicily who founded the Di Giorgio fruit brokerage business in Baltimore, realized that controlling Earl Fruit would give him access to the California fruit market. He bought the company and soon controlled the packing house and auction house ends of the fresh fruit business. Di Giorgio at first went for volume, following other fruit packers in extending credit to farmers to be repaid after the crops sold, but quickly found it less risky to primarily serve their own orchards and farms and leave the riskier deals for other packers.

Di Giorgio was huge, owning lumber mills, huge farms, the packing houses, and eventually even the S&W canned goods brand. They intended to be everywhere, and they were.

Check out the full Bancroft Library interview for lots of details about the railroad and packing industry in California; I'd learned lots about the business side, how fruit auctions worked, and how fruit labels were both expensive and important for the fruit sales.

[Fruit label cribbed from the California Digital Library and U.C. Libraries.]

No comments:

Post a Comment