This brief history of the citrus industry in Orange County has been excerpted and edited from:
Prepared for: Irvine Community Development Company, 550 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, California 92658
Prepared by: The Keith Companies, Inc., Archaeology Division, 2955 Red Hill Avenue, Costa Mesa, California 92626
Report Author: Christopher Drover, Ph.D., Director of Archaeology
Dated August 22, 2001

Brief History of the Orange Industry in Orange County

The Southern California citrus industry began after 1870 with Anaheim physician Dr. William Hardin, who is credited with planting the first grove of oranges from Tahitian seeds. The original Spanish orange, introduced to Southern California in the early eighteenth century, was considered too tart and dry. Experimenting with grafts between the Tahitian and Spanish varieties Richard Gilmore of Placentia produced the Valencia orange in 1872. The first commercial Valencia grove was planted in 1875 in Fullerton. By the 1880s oranges became a two million dollar per year crop in Orange County. With the completion of the transcontinental railroad system in the 1880s, citrus growers who had been primarily supplying a local demand had the potential to become national suppliers.

In the late nineteenth century growers were faced with the problem of packing, shipping, identifying, and advertising their products. California packers developed a wood shipping box, measuring approximately twenty seven inches by twelve inches by twenty-seven inches (See Note 1), onto which an often brightly colored, attractive, paper label was attached to one end. Growers and packers were responsible for choosing their own labels and brand names. The images they choose often related to their special interests, or were designed to call attention to their product. Thousands of different designs were employed in the course of seventy years. Labels were used until the 1950s when wooden boxes were replaced with cardboard boxes.

The first orange cooperative was created in 1885. The Southern California Fruit Exchange, later a part of Sunkist, was formed in 1893. In 1914, oranges were considered the fifth most important crop in Orange County. In 1929, some ten million boxes of Valencia oranges were produced in Orange County. The following year the Valencia orange became the official Orange County "Tree" and a Valencia Orange Show and Fair was started in Anaheim.

In 1931, ten orange and two lemon packing houses were operating in Orange County (See Note 2). Five of the operations boasted new pre-cooling and cold storage facilities. At their peak in the 1940s and 1950s, some fifty packing houses were operating in Orange County. These were usually located along railroad lines or spurs to permit more efficient shipping. By 1940, Orange County led the state in Valencia groves, with over 68,000 acres planted in trees. Although orange production continued, only twenty thousand acres of land in Orange County remained planted with orange trees by the early 1960s. By 1964, oranges were still the most important crop; but, by the mid-1960s, the last cooperative in Orange County had closed and only three packing houses were still in operation. By 1989, the Valencia orange industry was virtually gone.

Note 1: This should be 12" by 12" by 27". (JL)
Note 2: This number is low. Steve Donaldson, co-author of the two-volume "Rails Through the Orange Groves," has compiled a list of packing houses in Orange County covering the period from 1903 to 1949. His list shows 49 packing houses in Orange County in 1928 and 56 in 1932. The majority of these were orange and lemon packing houses. (JL)