Washington state: As American as apple...

By Susan Evans
Peter Pan brand by the Northwest District Fruit Sales Company Inc. of Wenatchee, Washington

125 years ago this November (November 11, 1889, to be exact), President Benjamin Harrison signed a proclamation admitting Washington as the 42nd state in the Union. And what has Washington been growing that whole time? Apples!

Apple crate label with the word OAK

OK brand apple crate label from Chelan Falls, Washington

Washington State has always been known for its fertile apple-growing lands. According to the Washington State Apple Commission, there are currently more than 175,000 acres of apple orchards in Washington State and apples are the state's largest agricultural product. Each year, the state harvests approximately 100 million boxes of apples, with each box weighing around 40 pounds. How do you like them apples?

Well, I like them a lot. And I'm particularly interested in the labels that have been used to make apples even more desirable to consumers and wholesalers since the early 20th century. Apple companies that wanted to stand out used colorful labels with vivid images to establish brands and develop a loyal base of buyers. Fruit crate labels were important marketing tools, and different images sent different messages to early 20th century apple enthusiasts. Below are just a few of the apple crate labels in the collections at the National Museum of American History.

See! See! brand Washington apple crate label

Washington Sales, Inc. of Wenatchee, Washington, sold the See! See! brand of apples in the early 20th century. The hearty looking boy eating an apple on the beach reminds consumers of the health benefits of apples. An apple a day will indeed keep the doctor away.

Range Rider apple crate label

Brewster Cooperative Growers of Brewster, Washington, sold Range Rider apples during the first half of the 20th century. This label reminds apple eaters "For goodness sake—Store at 31 degrees and always serve cold."

Peter Pan apple crate label featuring an image of Peter Pan wearing a red outfit and hat

These apples, from the "World Famous Northwest District," were sold under the Peter Pan brand by the Northwest District Fruit Sales Company Inc. of Wenatchee, Washington, during the early 20th century. Peter Pan can be seen sitting in an apple tree, perhaps promising eternal youth to those who eat Peter Pan apples.

Apple crate label featuring an image of a speedy boat

Outboard brand apples were sold by the Chelan-Manson Co-operative Association of Chelan, Washington, during the early 20th century. Showing the best of Washington State scenery, this label depicts a man driving a boat named "Red Apple" and evokes the natural beauty of Washington and its apples.

Apple crate label featuring a smiling child with an apple

Long before Bobby McFerrin suggested that we "Don’t Worry, Be Happy," the George F. Joseph Company of Yakima, Washington, told consumers in the early 20th century "don't worry, eat apples" with their Don't Worry brand apples. The child pictured on this label, with a healthy glow in his cheeks, had taken that message to heart.

Happy birthday, Washington!

Susan Evans is the Director of the American Food History Project.