( The Packer )

The following article from The Packer's “A Century of Produce,” was published in 1993.

As The Packer prepares to publish our 125th-anniversary edition later this year, we are posting some of the writing from previous anniversary publications.

Here is the foreword of "A Century of Produce."


The easy part, come 1993, was deciding to feature the people. A Century of Produce would be about a trade, a livelihood, a people.

Barrick Publishing Co. first put the news to print on February 16, 1893. Film and Ferris wheels and push lawnmowers were just coming to be. Grover Cleveland was in the White House. Only a few years earlier, celery had become a status symbol, displayed by aspiring middle-class Americans in pressed-glass vases. The rich folks, they used crystal.

It was a very different time.

So it was in 1918 and 1943, significant anniversary milestones for The Packer. And again in September 1968, when a 4-pound, 244-page special newsprint section regaled 75 years of industry progress and Packer operations. And then came 1993.

George H. Gurley had suspected it would.

In that 1968 tribute issue, the longtime Packer publisher wrote: “. . . The Packer could be considered the industry’s piano player. Not that its role is just that of providing incidental background music, or entertainment, although there is certainly no law against making a business paper a pleasure to read, and we hope that such is the case with The Packer. Beyond that, there are the more serious purposes of providing helpful information, editorial guidance, and some measure of inspiration.”

Once upon a century, now.

Truck farms gave way to commercial-scale mechanized production. Ice-bunker railcars to mechanical reefers, then trucks. Regional-based distribution to cross-country marketing. Fruit auctions to f.o.b. selling.

Terminal prepackaging, repacking and regional fresh processing sprang up. Self-service supermarketing brought merchandising to fruits and vegetables. Imports came from New Zealand and Chile. The foodservice market was born. Convenience called.

Snoboy and the Blue Goose grew up. Sunkist shined and Miss Chiquita sang. Bud was the king of produce, too, at one time.

And all the while the industry’s ledger was being kept weekly in Kansas City.

In a letter dated March 16, 1993 -- a century and a month after The Packer first went to press, E. Alan Mills sent notice of his pending retirement to The Packer. “I’ll never forget The Packer,” wrote Mills, longtime head of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League who had “retired” to spend 14 more years marketing temperature recorders. “I’ve been reading it for at least 60 years -- probably longer. Can't remember not having The Packer to read. Even read about my dad in The Packer. That was during the ’30s and ’40s.”

For all its own history, as work began on its Centennial anniversary The Packer had precious little reservoir of the stories and photos that have documented the fresh produce industry’s business. But we had the inspiration that George Gurley mentioned.

Project coordinator Donna Vestal and publisher-turned-historian J. V. “Jim” Connell leafed through volumes of yellowed newsprint, scanned decades of newly microfilmed issues, and indexed hundreds of articles, advertisements, pictures, cartoons and excerpts. Their work was the foundation of a Decade retrospective series printed in The Packer during the 10 months of October 1992 through July 1993.

Their work herein -- and that of many others credited in this special edition -- has brought the music to life.

The celery market was nothing extraordinary that week in 1993 when Alan Mills’ letter arrived. Of course, that no one was putting celery into vases anymore wasn’t helping demand. Meanwhile, the rest of the industry was going about its business. So was The Packer.

In the 75th anniversary section, George Gurley finished: “When another 25 years roll by, I hope that the piano player will still be playing, and it seems more than likely in view of his already proven endurance.”

More than likely indeed.

For history must be enduring. It is a window to the future. It is exciting and inspiring. Its possibilities are breathtaking. Its personality is engaging, commanding, overwhelming.

Recognizing that, we pause for A Century Of Produce.

Meantime, the piano plays on.