US Route 89 - The West
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The Art Vegetable Crate Labels

Lettuce Packing Line

Lettuce and Landscapes
by John Medley

In the first half of the 20th Century, vegetable packing facilities serving the farmers of central Arizona were located along railroad tracks and main highways. In Phoenix, the packing houses were on Grand Avenue/US Route 89 where it parallels the railroad tracks. The post WWII population growth of the region caused the relocation of both vegetable farms and their packing operations to sites further removed from the growing cities.  By the close of the 20th Century, vegetable packing operations along US 89 ceased operations due to the continued urbanization of the entire Salt River Valley.

Arizona grown lettuce and carrots were prominent among the many fresh vegetable varieties shipped each season in wooden boxes first by railroad car, and later by truck, to Eastern wholesale auction markets. Each of those wood crates carried with it the grower's and/or packer's “brand” name and their location affixed to the box end.

The dimensions of the vegetable crate label as printed by a variety of American lithograph companies originated in the early 1930's in the farm fields of the American West. Fresh vegetable shippers in the region pioneered the development of the Western Growers Association's (WGA) crate in order to have a uniform container for rail shipment of  “row crop” vegetables. The 7 inch by 9 inch dimensions of the paper label used on the WGA crate was unchanged during more than four decades of use.

Lettuce Packing Shed

Lithograph companies in Los Angeles and San Francisco produced crate labels utilized by the Arizona vegetable industry. These labels were intentionally bright and colorful, having been designed to provide maximum “brand” recognition on the part of wholesale buyers in the Eastern produce auction halls.

An outstanding aspect of many Arizona vegetable labels is the unique use of the saguaro cactus as a design component. This feature clearly set Arizona labels apart from their California counterparts. The artists and designers of these box labels understood that the saguaro was well suited to represent the arid landscape surrounding the miles of irrigated fields of vegetable crops grown in the Arizona desert.

The vegetable industry's use of the wooden WGA shipping crates and their accompanying paper labels came to an end in the late 1960's. These miniature posters became obsolete with widespread introduction of the more economical and labor saving pre-printed cardboard shipping cartons.

Although nearly a half century has passed since vegetable crate labels were retired from their task of marketing and promoting Arizona and desert grown vegetables, they remain vibrant and eye catching works of vintage American commercial art.

About John Medley

Royal John Medley's interest in locating, acquiring,and preserving vintage Arizona citrus and vegetable crate labels is related to his early work experience and to the employment history of his immediate family members. As a young man in the late 1960's, Mr. Medley was employed as a retail produce department manager at various supermarket locations in the Phoenix area.

In the early 1960's, his mother was employed as a shipping clerk at a produce packing plant in Yuma, Arizona. In the early 1970's, his father was employed as a regional manager of the Phoenix area farm labor offices of the Arizona State Employment Services. Prior to her recent retirement, his wife was employed as the Fine Arts instructor at San Manuel Junior / Senior High School and is active in her own artistic pursuits.

When considering the related artistic and agricultural work experiences of  Mr. Medley, his spouse, and his parents, it is not at all surprising that he has successfully compiled a sizable archive of agricultural ephemera containing excellent examples of America's best 20th Century commercial graphic art.

Mr. Medley served as the curator of a vintage label exhibit entitled Arizona's Forgotten “C” - The Story of Citrus and the Art It Inspired. The exhibit was funded by an Arizona Historical Society grant and was held at the Oracle Historical Society's Acadia Ranch Museum, Oracle, AZ (2005).

Email John Medley for further information about his extensive collection of label art.

Arizona Vegetable Crate Labels

Gold Rush Brand Label
Lone prospector rushes to pan for Gold---Vegetables in crate are Gold---to be Rushed to market.

Super Sun Chief Brand Label
Lettuce in crates is sped to market with the speed of the Santa Fe's Sun Chief streamlined locomotives.

Curly Head Brand Label
Curly headed toddler---Vegetables in crate are Curly Heads of lettuce.

Desert Giant Brand label
Saguaro cactus and the mountain range are both a Desert Giant; note use of Saguaro cactus as a design component.

Copper State Brand Label
Embossed copper letters spell out Copper—one of the 5”C”'s of the Copper State economy.

Denny's Pride Brand Label
Smartly dressed toddler is Mr. Denny Isabell's pride—lettuce heads in crate are also Denny's Pride.

Is-A-Bell Brand Label
Bell in tower Is A Bell—visual word play based on grower's surname, Isabell.

Recker Brand Label
WGA crate of lettuce is wrecked—opened to show fine lettuce heads from Arizona—visual word play on grower's surname, Recker.

Glen Zona Brand Label
Glen Zona, a contraction of the packer's location—Glendale, Arizona and another label using the saguaro as design element.

Westward Ho Brand Label
Mounted trail boss leads westward bound train of covered wagons urging them, Westward Ho.

Western Chief Brand Label
A Western Chief—the packer is Chief among the Western vegetable packers.

Mlie Hi Brand Label
Vegetables grown and packed near Prescott—known as Arizona's Mile High City.