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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
3: Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895

Growing for a Wider Market

Railroad companies laid more than 100,000 miles of new track between 1870 and 1890. Along with the development of refrigerated cars, this new network helped create a growing market for fruit and other produce. By the 1880s, Armour, Swift, and other meatpacking companies shipped refrigerated beef around the country. Fruits and vegetables became more widely available. Strawberries from Tennessee, Georgia peaches, Florida oranges, and a cornucopia of produce from California poured into midwestern and eastern cities, feeding America’s expanding urban populations.

Watsonville, California, freight yards, 1890s
Watsonville, California, freight yards, 1890s

This photo shows the railroad’s importance to agriculture and commerce in the region. Although Watsonville had only a few thousand residents, it had a busy railroad station because of its commercialized agriculture.

Growing Locally, Selling Nationally

With new national markets beckoning, Watsonville farmers tried out new cash crops. In the 1870s and 1880s, they experimented with strawberries, hops, loganberries, apples, and other fruits and vegetables. Watsonville sent thousands of tons of strawberries to San Francisco, and sold its apples nationally and internationally. In the 1890s, Pajaro Valley farmers planted even more orchards, growing strawberries and other cash crops between the rows of trees to bring in money while the orchards matured.

As more fresh and canned produce was shipped around the country, growers began to label their wares. These labels helped the shippers keep track of which box of fruit belonged to which company. They also helped create brand recognition.

Manzanita asparagus can label, 1910s
Manzanita asparagus can label, 1910s
Blue Flag apple crate label, 1910s
Blue Flag apple crate label, 1910s
Western Beet Sugar Company factory, Watsonville, California, 1890s
Western Beet Sugar Company factory, Watsonville, California, 1890s

Beginning in 1888, Watsonville farmers grew sugar beets for a local factory, which was the largest beet processing plant in the country. By 1895, they grew beets on 7,244 acres of land. This crop helped protect Watsonville from the depressions of the 1890s and firmly tied local residents into commercialized farming. But in 1898, because beet sugar production shifted to the Salinas Valley, the factory moved too. The Watsonville factory closed after only 10 years of operation.

Refrigerator car model, 1905

Fresh vegetables, fruit, and meat had to be kept cool to be shipped long distances. Refrigerator cars began running in the late 1860s, using blocks of ice in special bunkers and air circulation to preserve their perishable cargoes. By the 1880s in California, ice was cut in winter from lakes in the Sierra Mountains and transported by rail to icehouses located in every farming region—including Watsonville—that shipped vegetables or orchard crops. Refrigerator cars received fresh ice at such houses, which stored their ice supplies in layers of straw to last into summer. This model shows a car built in 1905 for Merchants Despatch Transportation, an eastern firm that operated several thousand
refrigerator cars nationwide.

Refrigerator car model, 1905
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