A Short History of Produce Labels

 

Mission Trails Produce LabelThe stunning art pieces you find on these web pages were the predominant marketing tools for the agricultural industry from the late 1800s through the first half of the twentieth century. With the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, fruit producers in the West were able to more efficiently ship their oranges, apples, and grapes to the markets in the East. When the refrigerated railcar was introduced, more perishable produce -- lettuce, tomatoes, melons -- could be transported as well.

From the packing house to the wholesale produce markets to the vendors on the streets, the product traveled in sturdy wooden crates. The ends of those crates became valuable point-of-sale advertising space, home to some of the most eye-catching art produced between 1870 and 1950.

Produce exchanges, such as California Fruit Exchange and California Packing Association, were formed to help growers, from large operations to family farms, market their goods.Fore Vintage Produce Label These exchanges were the biggest customers of West Coast printing houses. Schmidt Litho in San Francisco and Western Lithograph in Los Angeles were just two of the hundreds of printers producing produce labels. These printers used the best graphic artists of their day, with pxthe larger houses employing as many as 100 of these craftsmen.

A large number of the graphic artists were recent European immigrants who had attended trade schools in the East to learn commercial art skills. They moved to the West Coast to work for the lithographic companies, bringing with them their idealized, romantic visions of the American West. From Cowboys to Indians, Spanish missions to pin-up girls, crate art needed to be coloful, vivid, and powerful, to catch the eye of the buyers passing their neighborhood markets.

The introduction of the corrugated cardboard box in the 1950s brought an end, in large part, to the paper produce label. All needed information and logos could be screen-printed directly on the cardboard. Advertising moved to the living room, on the screens of the increasingly popular television set.

Through these web pages, we salute the heritage of the ag industry, and we pay humble homage those anonymous artists of a bygone era.