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Orange Empire

Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden

Douglas Cazaux Sackman
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 401
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  • Book Info
    Orange Empire
    Book Description:

    This innovative history of California opens up new vistas on the interrelationship among culture, nature, and society by focusing on the state's signature export-the orange. From the 1870s onward, California oranges were packaged in crates bearing colorful images of an Edenic landscape. This book demystifies those lush images, revealing the orange as a manufactured product of the state's orange industry.Orange Empirebrings together for the first time the full story of the orange industry-how growers, scientists, and workers transformed the natural and social landscape of California, turning it into a factory for the production of millions of oranges. That industry put up billboards in cities across the nation and placed enticing pictures of sun-kissed fruits into nearly every American's home. It convinced Americans that oranges could be consumed as embodiments of pure nature and talismans of good health. But, as this book shows, the tables were turned during the Great Depression when Upton Sinclair, Carey McWilliams, Dorothea Lange, and John Steinbeck made the Orange Empire into a symbol of what was wrong with America's relationship to nature.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94089-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XVI)
  5. PROLOGUE An Allegory of California
    (pp. 1-14)

    In the spring of 1931, a most unlikely figure could be seen in the new Luncheon Club of the San Francisco Stock Exchange. By all accounts, he went about his business with as much alacrity and stamina as the most ardent trader. But this man did not deal in stocks. A devoted Marxist, he considered such financial speculation the work of “parasitic exploiters.” In any other circumstances, this brown-skinned Mexican would not have gained access to the exclusive club. But his name was Diego Rivera, and he was considered by many to be the second-greatest living painter (and Picasso was...


      (pp. 17-19)

      In 1878, the enterprising Luther and Elizabeth Tibbets saw their dream come to fruition: two ripe oranges dangled from trees in front of their Riverside home. During the subsequent land boom in southern California, legend has it that real estate sharks caught their share of greenhorn Yankees in a bold trompe l’oeil: plots of desert land were made seductively abundant by dangling oranges from Joshua trees. What juxtaposition—fruit hanging artificially from an unlikely parent tree and a real orange tree naturally bearing its own fruit—could be more complete?

      But a look at the origins of the Tibbetses’ tree...

    • ONE Manifesting the Garden
      (pp. 20-52)

      A girl runs through row after row of blossoming orange trees. The air is densely fragrant. But this is no dreamy scene of sun-dabbled Arcadia. The girl is not some Pomona or queen regally gazing over her citrus landscape, like the images adorning so much promotional literature (see figure 3). She is furtive and desperate; she is a fugitive. Her pursuers wish to capture her and thereby redeem her. In their eyes, she is wild and uncultivated. She is the desert, and they are the rain. They have the know-how to make her bloom and train her growth, like they...

    • TWO A Cornucopia of Invention
      (pp. 53-83)

      Hercules had already completed eleven labors, including the theft of the golden apples from the Hesperides, when he challenged the river god Acheloüs for the hand of the beautiful Deianira. Hercules threw sand into Acheloüs’s face, and the two wrestled in the dirt. In desperation, the river god turned himself into a fierce bull, but Hercules was not deterred. Scoffing at the god’s attempt to employ “weapons that are not natural” to him, he seized the fakir bull and forced its horns into the ground. Triumphantly, he grabbed a horn and twisted it completely off. Blessed by the naiads, it...

    • THREE Pulp Fiction: The Sunkist Campaign
      (pp. 84-116)

      At the world’s columbian exposition of 1893, a very curious figure stood in the California State Building: a medieval knight in armor, mounted on a horse, composed entirely of prunes. As the exposition’s brochure explained, this figure “metaphorically impressed the fact that the prunes of that state are being introduced victoriously into all lands, to the discomfiture of the products of other countries.” Lording it over other exhibits of California’s fertility—such as an “Old Liberty Bell … perfect in shape,” composed of 6,500 oranges—this knight of prunes was a member of a most regular army: one semiotic soldier...


      (pp. 119-122)

      It was only in the beginning that there was no work. At that time, as the legend goes, fruits of every sort appeared abundantly on the trees of Eden. Man and woman, together with the other creatures, lived lives of leisurely bliss. But some fruits were off limits. With a fateful bite, the leisure world disappeared. Having lost their right to the other fruits, man and woman would have to “till the ground” for grain. And though Adam and Eve presumably had the capacity to “be fruitful and multiply” while in the garden, it was only after they were cast...

    • FOUR The Fruits of Labor
      (pp. 123-153)

      Not content to feed only the physical bodies of the one-third of the nation he saw as ill-nourished, Franklin Delano Roosevelt also served up images designed to fortify the body politic. The New Deal commissioned over 1,100 murals in post offices “to develop local cultural interests throughout the country.”¹ The images were to be rooted in the countryside, in the hope that they would help connect the people to one another and the land. When muralist Paul Julian saw his space on the wall of the Fullerton post office in Orange County, he did not have to look far to...

    • FIVE “The Finished Products of Their Environment”
      (pp. 154-178)

      The members of a family of Mexicano agricultural workers in San Bernardino did their best to accommodate a woman from the government when she visited their home. Though the husband knew some English from his work in the groves, most of what this woman said was beyond him. He gathered that she was interested in children. She inspected their kitchen, looked closely at their food and at their bedding, and seemed disturbed that their small house had only a dirt floor. She pulled out a cigar box with Popsicle-stick legs attached, and pointed to his wife and to him. He...


      (pp. 181-184)

      By the 1920s, the Orange Empire had powerfully reshaped California. It had worked wonders with nature, re-creating the landscape and reinventing its fruits. It had pulled to it a vast reservoir of human labor and found a way to replenish that reservoir year by year. It had reached into streets and homes across America to create an enormous demand for its products. Along the way, it had secured the help of the state. By 1929, the Orange Empire exercised considerable control over social, political, and environmental matters across California and the nation. Its hegemony was made possible by a way...

    • SIX A Jungle of Representation: The EPIC Campaign versus Sunkist
      (pp. 185-224)

      On the first day of September 1933, Upton Sinclair—muckraking novelist, Pasadena transplant, physical culture enthusiast, and indefatigable dietary experimenter—changed his party registration from Socialist to Democrat. He ran for the gubernatorial nomination, won, and declared that his campaign marked a “new birth of Democracy.”¹ Never one for modesty, Sinclair made a pretty big campaign promise—to “End Poverty in California” (EPIC). In his hands, California’s economy would be driven by the principle of “production for use,” not profit. The threat was not lost on the leaders of agribusiness, including Sunkist’s president Charles Collins Teague. It is no wonder...

    • SEVEN A Record of Eden’s Erosion
      (pp. 225-261)

      Harold bissonette, the grocer played by W. C. Fields inIt’s a Gift(1934), journeys to California in a beat-up jalopy with suitcases tied to the running boards. Dreaming of life as an orange grower, Harold has plunked down an inheritance on a plot of land near the fertile groves he sees pictured in a promotional brochure. Just after crossing the state line, Harold and his motley crew drive into an opulently landscaped estate and disembark for a picnic, mistaking it for a typical public park in America’s Eden. After being run off the property, Harold drives on to the...

    • EIGHT “A Profit Cannot Be Taken from an Orange”: Steinbeck’s Case for Environmental Justice
      (pp. 262-288)

      In 1939, California’s cornucopia yielded 462,000 tons of prunes, 2 million tons of grapes, 10 million bushels of pears, and 75 million boxes of oranges. The oranges brought in over $100 million, and the $383 million paid for all of California’s crops made it the richest agricultural state in the union. But half a million American consumers also bought a book that cast a pall over these fruits and their place of origin. For Americans who had been fed a steady diet of romantic images of the Golden State,The Grapes of Wrathwas a gut-wrenching, myth-breaking novel. It pulverized...

  9. EPILOGUE By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them
    (pp. 289-300)

    Born in caribou, Maine, in 1873, Charles Collins Teague seemed to have a commanding presence. Expecting to “find a tropical country,” he made his way to California in 1893, the year that Sunkist was founded. Teague worked his way up through the ranks of citrus growers, inspiring the confidence of those around him. By 1908, he had become president of the Teague-McKevett Association, and by 1917, of the Limoneira Company. His apotheosis was complete in 1920, when he was made president of the California Fruit Growers Exchange (a position he would hold until his death in 1950). Whether serving on...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 301-348)
    (pp. 349-374)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 375-386)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 387-387)