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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 People on the Move The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 Americans Adopt the Auto Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction Working the Fields Growing for a Wider Market
Delivering the Goods

Watsonville, California, 1895

A Southern Pacific boxcar is in front of you; a farm wagon to your right is loaded with boxes of apples; a young apple orchard, with strawberries planted between the rows, is to your left. As the Jupiter runs from Santa Cruz to Watsonville, California, so does the exhibition. It’s a summer day. Two Chinese men are in the field, picking the strawberries—backbreaking work.

View from the exhibition
View from the exhibition

Growing for the Wider Market

Railroads changed agriculture. As railways linked farms to a wider commercial world, farmers began to grow new crops for markets near and far. Vast wheat fields supplied flour for people around the world. Trains carried cattle and hogs to central stockyards and shipped meat by refrigerated railcars to retail markets across the country. City dwellers could buy fruits and vegetables year-round. Farms became commercialized, often specializing in single crops and tied to the ups and downs of a national market.

With its rich farmland, Watsonville became a center of produce farming. When the railway opened up new markets, local farmers began to experiment with sugar beets, apples, strawberries, and other cash crops. These new crops were highly labor-intensive, needing a vast army of workers to plant, cultivate, harvest, and pack them. Watsonville growers looked for low-cost and temporary field hands. They hired Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Mexican workers to perform the backbreaking work.

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