Citrus Industry

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CITRUS INDUSTRY. Citrus trees and shrubs, native to east Asia, were introduced by the Spanish to both Florida and California in the late sixteenth century. The colonial town of St. Augustine, Florida, was said to be full of citrus groves during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and citrus trees were grown about the missions of southern California during the same period.

In Florida the Spanish traded oranges to Native Americans, which led to the further spread of naturalized orange trees throughout the interior of the peninsula. William Bartram, the naturalist, reported feral oranges along the banks of the St. Johns River in 1773, and by the time the United States completed its acquisition of Florida in 1821, extensive groves of wild trees could be found throughout the forests, especially near the large interior lakes such as Orange, Harris, and Wier. Some of these wild groves were domesticated by American homesteaders; that is, they were cultivated, pruned, and perhaps even fertilized. Small orange groves began to be planted along the central-east coast in the Upper Indian River area, as well as along the St. Johns River during the 1830s.

In 1835 Florida was struck by the most severe freeze on record. Even in coastal St. Augustine the temperature fell to six degrees Fahrenheit, and for three days the temperatures stayed below freezing. Orange trees centuries old were frozen to the roots. A few protected groves survived in the Indian River area, and the intrepid pioneers of northeastern Florida replanted groves throughout the region. The absence of deep-draft, navigable waterways in the interior stymied the growth of agriculture until the coming of the railways to the central peninsula just prior to the Civil War. After the war the South lay in ruins and lacked the ability to make improvements in transportation. Only when northern capital became attracted to the area in the late 1870s and 1880s did the rail lines begin to push southward, opening the peninsula for development. As Henry B. Plant and Henry Flagler brought relatively inexpensive freight transportation to central and southern Florida, the citrus industry began to come into its own. Groves became larger and packinghouses set up operations along the rail lines. The fruit, which had been packed in barrels and cushioned with Spanish moss, now was shipped in nailed, wooden boxes, each fruit wrapped in paper. The packinghouses pasted their distinctive label on the boxes, some of which featured highly decorative artwork depicting idyllic, tropical scenes and other illustrations. These labels have become highly collectible.

Meanwhile in California, citrus remained a minor crop until the late nineteenth century. William Wolfskill obtained orange trees from the Mission San Gabriel in 1841 and planted the first orange grove in Los Angeles, but by 1858 only seven citrus orchards existed in all of California. In 1868 the first shipment of oranges went by boat to San Francisco. California's great distance from the populous regions of the United States severely limited production of perishable products, even with the advent of the transcontinental railways. Yet with the coming of the colony towns to the east of Los Angeles in the 1870s and 1880s, the groundwork was laid for the Citrus Belt located in the foothills of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. Several factors were responsible for the boom in California citrus. Some were economic, such as the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the railroad rate wars of the 1880s, and some horticultural, such as the introduction of the Bahia or Washington navel orange from Brazil and a better understanding of the unique growing conditions of the region. In 1881 the first packinghouse was established in Riverside and the following year the first carload of oranges and lemons was shipped to Denver. In 1886 a special orange train on an express schedule was sent to Kansas City.

By 1894 Florida was producing annually over five million boxes of fruit, each weighing ninety pounds. Despite earlier freezes, the industry continued to be located chiefly in the northern part of the peninsula. However, during the winter of 1894–1895, back-to-back freezes virtually destroyed the industry, thus forcing it south into the central part of the state. Not until 1910 did Florida replicate its earlier production.

By far the most significant development in the modern citrus industry was the invention of citrus concentrate. Faced with a crisis resulting from low market prices around 1950, the juice industry was regarded as a Cinderella phenomenon and a godsend to the citrus business. While post–World War II development rapidly diminished the citrus acreage of southern California, Florida plantings increased substantially, reaching over 800,000 acres producing near 200 million boxes by the 1970s. Thus, by the 1960s Florida surpassed California in production, followed by Texas, Arizona, and Louisiana, all relatively small producers.


Hume, Harold H. Citrus Fruits and Their Culture. New York: O. Judd, 1915.

Reuther, Walter et al. The Citrus Industry. Vols.1–5. Riverside: University of California at Riverside, 1989.

Ziegler, Louis W., and Herbert S. Wolfe. Citrus Growing in Florida. Rev. ed. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1975.

Robert N.Lauriault

See alsoCalifornia ; Florida ; Fruit Growing ; Osage Orange .

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Citrus Industry

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