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Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association

Cranberries ~ History

History of Cranberries

The cranberry, along with the blueberry and Concord grape, is one of North America's three native fruits that are commercially grown. Cranberries were first used by Native Americans, who discovered the wild berry's versatility as a food, fabric dye and healing agent. Today, cranberries are commercially grown throughout the northern part of the United States and are available in both fresh and processed forms.

The name "cranberry" derives from the Pilgrim name for the fruit, "craneberry", so called because the small, pink blossoms that appear in the spring resemble the head and bill of a Sandhill crane. European settlers adopted the Native American uses for the fruit and found the berry a valuable bartering tool.

American whalers and mariners carried cranberries on their voyages to prevent scurvy. In 1816, Captain Henry Hall became the first to successfully cultivate cranberries. By 1871, the first association of cranberry growers in the United States had formed, and now, U.S. farmers harvest approximately 40,000 acres of cranberries each year.

The History of Cranberry Production
In 1910 the more efficient, but still labor intensive, rocker scoop replaced earlier scoops used to harvest cranberries.

Of all fruits, only three - the blueberry, the Concord grape and the cranberry can trace their roots to North American soil.

The cranberry helped sustain Americans for hundreds of years. Native Americans used cranberries in a variety of foods, the most popular was pemmican - a high protein combination of crushed cranberries, dried deer meat and melted fat - they also used it as a medicine to treat arrow wounds and as a dye for rugs and blankets.

Cultivation of the cranberry began around 1816, shortly after Captain Henry Hall, of Dennis, Massachusetts, noticed that the wild cranberries in his bogs grew better when sand blew over them. Captain Hall began transplanting his cranberry vines, fencing them in, and spreading sand on them himself. When others heard of Hall's technique, it was quickly copied. Continuing throughout the 19th century, the number of growers increased steadily.

Cranberries are a unique fruit. They can only grow and survive under a very special combination of factors: they require an acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, sand and a growing season that stretches from April to November, including a dormancy period in the winter months that provides an extended chilling period, necessary to mature fruiting buds.

Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water. Instead, they grow on vines in impermeable beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. These beds, commonly known as "bogs," were originally made by glacial deposits.

Normally, growers do not have to replant since an undamaged cranberry vine will survive indefinitely. Some vines in Massachusetts are more than 150 years old.

In addition to Massachusetts, the major growing areas for cranberries are New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Quebec. Additional regions with cranberry production include Delaware, Maine, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, as well as the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. Altogether the entire cranberry industry is supported by approximately 47,000 acres, of which 14,000 are in Massachusetts.

Major Events in the History of Cranberry Production

1550 Native Americans use cranberries for food, dyes and medicine
1620 Pilgrims learn to use cranberries from the Native Americans
1683 Cranberry juice made by settlers
1816 Captain Henry Hall first cultivated cranberries in Dennis, Massachusetts
1820's Cranberries shipped to Europe for sale
1838 First record of ice sanding on bogs and flooding first used to control insects and prevent frost damage
1843 Eli Howes cultivated Howes variety of cranberries in East Dennis, Massachusetts
1845 "An Act for the Protection of Cranberries on Gay Head" put forth by Gay Head Indians on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
1847 Cyrus Cahoon cultivated Early Black variety of cranberries in Harwich, Massachusetts
1850's First cranberry scoops used for harvest and water harvesting tried, but abandoned; sailors use cranberries to prevent scurvy at sea
1854 First census of cranberry acreage - 197 acres in Barnstable County, MA.
1856 The Cranberry and Its Culture published by Benjamin Eastwood
1863 U. S. Department of Agriculture created Massachusetts Agricultural College (University of Massachusetts); Abraham Lincoln proclaims first national Thanksgiving
1868 100 lb. barrel of cranberries sold for fifty-eight cents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1870's Six quart pail used as standard picking measure
1887 Snap scoop invented for younger vines by Daniel Lumbert
1888 Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association formed in Massachusetts
1906 Henry J. Franklin began formal agricultural research on cranberries
1907 First market cooperative founded, New England Cranberry Sales Company
1910 Cranberry Experiment Station research facility established in Wareham, Massachusetts; Dr. Henry J. Franklin named first director; more efficient rocker scoop used
1912 Hayden cranberry separator patented. First cranberry sauce marketed, Hanson, Massachusetts
1920 Oscar Tervo invented first mechanical ride-on dry harvester known as Mathewson. Telephone frost warning system started
1923 Bailey Separator patented to grade and separate cranberries by bouncing the berries
1930 Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. formed as a grower owned marketing cooperative
1947 Walk behind mechanical dry harvesters replaced hand scooping
1953 First million barrel national crop
1959 Cranberry scare causes industry market crash
1960's First successful water harvesting; sprinkler systems installed on most bogs; cranberry products diversify and market expands
1970's Integrated Pest Management programs developed
1980's International markets developed for cranberries; demand for cranberry juice and juice blends rise dramatically
1990's Diversified cranberry products become ingredients in other foods; global demand for cranberry products continues to grow; new plantings of cranberries increase in an attempt to meet growing demand; cranberry prices reach an historic high
1997 An over supply of cranberries, plus other economic and business hurdles, cause a dramatic drop in cranberry prices, causing an economic uncertainty and a destabilizing of the cranberry industry
2000's With cranberry supply better matching demand, cranberry prices begin to stabilize and the industry begins to return to profitability

Resource List for Further Study

  • Burrows, Fredrika A. CANNONBALLS AND CRANBERRIES. William S. Sultwold, Taunton, 1974.
  • Eck, Paul. THE AMERICAN CRANBERRY. Rutgers University Press, New Jersey, 1990.
  • Jasperson, William. CRANBERRIES. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1991.
  • Johnson, Charles W. BOGS OF THE NORTHEAST. University Press of New England, 1985.
  • Kusler, Jon A. OUR NATIONAL WETLAND HERITAGE. A PROTECTION GUIDEBOOK. The Environmental Law Institute, Washington, D. C, 1983.
  • Lyons, Janet. WALKING THE WETLANDS. John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1989.
  • Milne, Louis J. THE MYSTERY OF THE BOG FOREST. Dodd, Mead, & Company, New York, 1984.
  • Newcomb, Lawrence. NEWCOMB'S WILDFLOWER GUIDE. Little, Brown, & Company, Boston, 1977.
  • Niering, William A. WETLANDS: THE AUDUBON SOCIETY NATURE GUIDES. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
  • Peterson, Roger Tory. WILDFLOWERS: PETERSON FIELD GUIDES. Houghton Mifflin Company,Boston,
  • Thomas, Joseph. CRANBERRY HARVEST. Spinner Publications, New Bedford,
  • Weller, Milton. FRESHWATER MARSHES: ECOLOGY AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1981.
  • Wilson, Ron. THE MARSHLAND WORLD. Blandford Press, Dorset, 1982.

historical harvesting