Crate labels originated in California in the late 19th century, when completion of the transcontinental railroads had made coast-to-coast shipping of fruit and vegetables possible for the first time.
As the produce was transported in wooden crates, labels were necessary to identify the contents and place of origin, as well as to attract the eye of potential buyers. In East Coast fruit markets and auctions halls these labels quickly became the growers’ most important advertising device and the more vivid and attractive the illustration, the more effective it could be.
Between the 1880s and the 1950s, millions of crate labels were produced for fruit and vegetable growers. Countless designs were printed by immigrant German lithographers who brought their skills to the United States. As the fruit trade grew, so the fledgling lithographic industry grew with it.
Crate art reflects American social and political history through the years. Early images of luscious fruit and local orchards were replaced with illustrations encompassing nearly every theme imaginable, from the Old West, Gold Rush and dramatic landscapes to politics, music, children and beautiful women.
Georgia peaches. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 11 (5) (ProQuest durable URL)
Jazz brand. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 11 (35) (ProQuest durable URL)
Polkodot brand. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 11 (22) (ProQuest durable URL)
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