With the rise of lithography in the late 1800s, colorful citrus crate labels were popularized in California in the 1880s. Until the 1950s, Florida citrus associations and growers employed colorful, eye-catching, and oftentimes fantastic labels to attract customers to their products. Some labels depicted everyday Florida pastoral scenes, such as a sunrise over a lake bordered by citrus groves, or a wading bird sitting on the edge of a river. Others portrayed Florida much the same way investors during the land boom did in the 1920s, by playing on customers ‘exotic’ preconceptions about the state. The more exotic depictions on citrus labels often consisted of Native American or Seminole tribe members in a variety of situations that had little to do with the product. Oftentimes labels depicted attractions that tourists to the state would find enticing, such as hunting or horse racing. Unemployed artists during World War I and the Great Depression supplied much of the citrus industry with its beautifully hand-painted artwork. The heyday of the citrus label artwork occurred from the 1920s to the early 1950s, when cardboard boxes replaced the wooden crates that were previously used to ship citrus. Once cardboard boxes became the industry standard, cheaper printed labels replaced lithography.
Citrus labels often consisted of nothing about the actual fruit they were meant to sell. Effectively persuading customers with an exotic attraction and catchy name, growers could sell Florida itself through label depictions. Trademarked in 1925, the “SnoBoy” brand covers a variety of fruits and vegetables grown by the former Pacific Fruit Company.
Citrus marketers commonly used representations of Native Americans on labels in order to portray an exotic appeal to prospective customers. In reality, citrus fruits are not native to the Western Hemisphere, and there is little evidence that the Seminole tribe of Florida ever grew citrus in groves after they were introduced by the Spanish. Those early Spanish imports were all of the sour, unpalatable breed. Sweet varieties of oranges were not cultivated and imported until the mid-19th Century.
Many citrus labels depicted Florida’s pastoral beauty to attract customers with images of plentiful harvests. Nearly all of the state’s core citrus growing regions in central Florida claimed to have their own unique variety of citrus that was more “famous,” sweeter, or produced more orange juice than any other. Oranges, tangerines, limes, lemons, and grapefruits were all commercially grown in Florida by the turn of the 20th century. With the copious number of growers and companies vying for business, citrus labels provided a way to entice customers and a lasting brand loyalty.