Fruit Wood Box

Date: 1890-1910

Origin: United States

Size: 12 1/2”H x 16 1/2”W x 12”D

Materials: wood

Object ID: WHP-D10

Fruit Boxes

During Prohibition, fresh-packed grapes was the business to be in to boost sales for the wineries and vineyards across California. The grapes needed to get to markets across the nation. Fruit packing companies were financially successful for a time at this because one of the provisions in the National Prohibition (Volstead) Act allowed the male head of every household to produce up to 200 gallons of fermented beverage per household each year for personal consumption. Home winemaking caused grape sales to soar and grape growers planted more vines to keep up with the demand for grapes to make wine in the customers’ homes. So, winemakers transitioned to grape growers. Grapes were being shipped in fruit boxes (lug boxes) by railroad cattle car, refrigerated car, or by ship. Most called themselves “fruit growers” during these days of Prohibition.

In 1908, K.U. Williams devised a “new method” to pack the fruit in half-lug boxes. According to the California Fruit Bulletin, a periodical of the time, the half-lug boxes sold for $5.20 box with no lid on the top of the boxes. Grapes were packed into a box with fruit box labels identifying the fruit seller’s business.

An article “Law Protects Owners of Lug Boxes” written in the 1919 California Grape Grower stated that the newly created California Trademark Act on August 1st prohibited the misuse of lug boxes used in the fruit growing and canning industry. Under the new law, owners of lug boxes could register with the county clerk the wording or design stenciled on the boxes and publish notice of registration once each week for three weeks in a newspaper. After giving this formal notice to the public covering ownership of the boxes, the burden of proof rested on the possessor of the boxes as to his right to have them or use them for any purpose other than that permitted in writing by the owner. It was also unlawful for any person to deface the boxes or to remove the marks. A contract which passed between a fruit grower and a canner gave written permission to the grower to use the canner’s boxes, but only for the handling of canner’s fruit from the orchard to the packing house. Aside from a penalty for each misappropriated box of fifty cents; for those who trafficked in these boxes, the law issued prison terms for offenders.

The Italian Swiss Colony Tipo Wood Box

Date: 1890-1920s

Origin: United States

Size: 12” x 12” x 17 ½”

Materials: teak

Object ID: WHP-CT141

The Italian Swiss Colony and Tipo

Andrea Sbarbaro (1839-1923) emigrated to New York from Italy in 1850, traveled via Panama in 1852, and after that worked as a shopkeeper, landowner, and banker in San Francisco. Eventually, he founded the Italian-American Bank, which merged in 1927 with the Bank of Italy to become the Bank of America.

Sbarboro formed an association chartered to fund an agricultural investment he had made of 1,620 acres. Membership would be limited to Italians, but Swiss were also allowed to join in those first years of forming the association. This Italian-American businessman founded the association in 1881 and named it the Italian-Swiss Agricultural Colony. Known as the Italian Swiss Colony, the winery was located near the town of Asti in northern Sonoma County. Sbarbaro ‘s vision was to create a community who would live and work together to re-create life as it had been in the old country, living and working together to grow the grapes and make wine; it would be structured as a profit-sharing cooperative association where members could work, receive training and economic benefits by sharing in the profits of the associations. Everyone who was part of the Colony would work for a share of the profits, and wine. A profit-sharing cooperative that would provide these immigrants with experience.

Sbarboro’s motives were threefold. First was for profit, secondly to teach these Italians the lessons of thrift, and finally to teach them about the U.S. economy. It was not for creating philanthropic or utopian communities.

By 1887, because of the reduced prices for grapes, Sbarboro made the decision to make his own wine instead of growing grapes for other wineries. The first winemaker he hired from Switzerland did not work out, as he used techniques that did not translate for winemaking in the heat of California. Afterward, Sbarboro hired an Italian, Pietro Carlo Rossi (1857-1911), as the winemaker. Pietro Carlo Rossi had a degree in agricultural chemistry.

The Italian Swiss Colony were producers of choice California wines which included Asti Colony red or white Tipo. The first vintage that Rossi released was a red table wine in 1886 and he called in Tipo Chianti. Tipo means type in Italian. So, Tipo Chianti means “type of Chianti.”

Italian Swiss Colony’s main customers were wholesalers in every town. The Colony sold the wine to the wholesalers in fifty-gallon barrels and eventually in tank cars. Additionally, they would ship wine in fifty-gallon barrels overseas to New York because a large percentage of their wines went east through the Panama Canal.

When the Italian Swiss Colony started selling the Chianti in bottles, they were raffia-covered bottles, similar to how wine was stored in bottles in Italy. Rossi improved the traditional winemaking techniques and pioneered temperature-controlled fermentation and also became the first California winemaker to use sulfur dioxide as an antioxidant. By the end of the nineteenth century, Italian Swiss Colony was producing two million gallons of wine per year.

Pietro Rossi died in 1911 from a freakish wagon and horse accident and his twin sons, Edmund and Robert, took over the business.

By 1911, the Italian Swiss Colony had been usurped into the California Wine Association (CWA). The threat of Prohibition wasn’t imminent enough and it was not until 1915-1916 that the CWA made up their minds to start liquidating some of their properties. Edmund Rossi, who was on the board of directors of the California Wine Association and also on the Asti board of directors offered to establish a business, shipping grapes and making grape concentrates and grape juices. He called the company Asti Grape Products Company. His brother, Robert and he, along with Enrico Prati and A.J. Merle together were able to buy the original Italian Swiss Colony property back from the California Wine Association.

The Asti Grape Products Company shipped their grapes to San Francisco by railroad and sold them right off of the tracks from the railroad cars. Their offices were first at 12 Geary and then were moved to 216 Pine Street. Prior to Prohibition, they had a storage facility on Greenwich Street in San Francisco with a million-gallon capacity, which Pietro Carlo Rossi had put up and used for storage and blending, and also for delivery by boat to eastern markets beginning in 1903 or 1904. One of their principal markets was San Francisco and they shipped to Chicago, and also to New York. The California Wine Association disposed of that facility at the time of Prohibition.

During Prohibition the Rossi’s went into the grape juices, concentrates, and fruit selling business. The customers for the concentrate and juices required a lot of detail work and as Edmund Rossi stated in an oral interview conducted by Ruth Teiser in January 1971, “It never amounted to big, big business. Grapes were more important.” He continued with, “not only did we grow grapes on the acreage at Asti but we bought grapes too, neighbors grapes. It was a risky business.” Then he stated, “People used to have wineries in apartment house basements in San Francisco. We used to have a plant at Broadway and Davis, where we’d crush the grapes that they would buy and then they would deliver them to homes in kegs and ferment them. We did the crushing for them. We had French, Germans, Italians. I used to call on them at home and then we would bottle their wines. Two or three men did that on their own and it was a really hard way to market wine.”

He continued with the interview by stating, “Then we built a corrugated iron building and office at the end of Broadway near the waterfront where we put up a crushing plant during Prohibition.” Edmund Rossi further explained, “we brought the grapes into the San Francisco market on the waterfront, and then the people who bought their grapes from us would bring them over to our plant and we supplied the crushing facilities and the containers for home delivery.” He continued, “We’d lend them the containers. In the case of white grapes, we’d press the grape juice out of it. In the case where they were going to make red wine, we’d just crush their grapes and deliver the pulp and everything except the stems. We maintained the plant all through the years of Prohibition…in San Francisco.”

The first four-or-five years following Prohibition, Italian Swiss Colony was not operating as a corporation and the business was one of liquidation. The board of directors of the California Wine Association (CWA) decided not to use the Italian Swiss Colony name, so they sold it back to the Rossis. Edmund Rossi said, “we were banking on Repeal. It was a big chance.” The Rossi’s took ownership of the Italian Swiss Colony name again.