PIECES OF THE PAST: Back When Bushel Baskets Were the Next Big Thing

Tacy CalliesPieces of the Past

bushel baskets

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

While some things stay the same in citrus, others clearly do not. Today’s growers are experimenting with drones and other technology in the grove, but back in the 1920s, bushel baskets were making waves in the industry. Here’s an interesting excerpt from a March 1921 Citrus Industry article titled “Citrus Fruits in Bushel Baskets” by M.S. Cohen:

“In the shipping and marketing of fruits and vegetables, the containers used are normally decided by custom. The package that has always been used is the package that is customarily given preference. It is a strange fact that there is more or less — and sometimes marked — disapproval when a new idea in the way of a shipping container is introduced. But, demonstrated “net profit” for the grower and shipper, to be secured through the use of a container that is designed somewhat different from the regulation type package, is a powerful convincer.

“Several years ago, Messrs. Weinberg Bros., of Galesburg, Ill., were prevailed upon to give the bushel basket a trial in the shipping of their citrus fruits. They had a carload of oranges in their Florida grove that did not warrant wrapping. These oranges they packed in bushel baskets and shipped them North. The results of this experiment proved so satisfactory to them that they are now shipping on an average of 20 cars, a season, all packed in bushel baskets, from their orange, grapefruit and tangerine groves located in Cocoa and Plant City, Fla.

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“Weinberg Bros. have found that the bushel basket was the means of a reduction in the marketing costs of their oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, and that this citrus fruit sold with greater rapidity — the retailers showing a preference for the bushel basket. The marketing and shipping of citrus fruits and other fruits and vegetables in bushel baskets has a tendency to increase consumption, for the bushel basket, which is a U. S. standard bushel, is the right quantity for the average family.

“The method of loading a refrigerator car with citrus fruit packed in bushel baskets depends on the size of the car. On one occasion the Six­Six Inverted Method was used. It happened to be a small car and was loaded with the following citrus fruits: 100-bushel baskets of tangerines, 150-bushel baskets of oranges and 190-bushel baskets of grapefruit, making a total of 440-bushel baskets of assorted citrus fruits. Some of the cars are loaded the Four-Three Alternate Method. In all instances the baskets are stacked five tiers high. As high as 576-bushel baskets of citrus fruit was loaded to the car.”

The article goes on to explain several other shipping experiments and continues with “From observations made in Chicago, retailers would like to have citrus fruit packed in bushel baskets. Some of the retailers even now are emptying oranges and grapefruit out of the original boxes and putting them into bushel baskets. In one A. & P. store, Florida grapefruit and Sunkist oranges were placed in bushel baskets. The manager stated that he could sell more fruit of any kind out of the bushel basket than out of any other package he had ever used.

“Keen interest is being shown by the fruit and vegetable growers throughout the entire producing regions of the United States in the bushel basket as a practical and economical shipping and marketing container for most varieties of fruits and vegetables.

“The bushel basket has proven to be quite a favorite with thousands of progressive fruit and vegetable growers and shippers, on account of the ease in handling, packing and closing. It has also proven to be quite a labor saver. Furthermore, the bushel basket is steadily gaining in favor among the retailers because of its display advantages and general utility.”

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.

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