Collectors of California and Arizona citrus labels are familiar with
the name Sunkist and with the various updated versions of the trademark.
But the history of how this trademark name came into being, the reasons
why it was developed, and what the original trademark designs looked
like, is not nearly as well known. Provided here is a brief essay along
with some pictorial examples that shed some light on this topic.
Shortly after T.H. B. Chamblin of Riverside founded the Southern California
Fruit Exchange (SCFE) (Sunkist Growers, Inc.) in 1893, it became apparent
that a grading system for all the citrus fruits they brought to market
would need to be developed. Various methods of achieving this goal were
tried, but it was not until after the turn of the century that a satisfactory
solution was found.
By that time, most of the individual packers and shippers that formed
the SCFE co-operative had developed their own trademarked brands. Each
packer had a top grade brand name which appeared on the paper label
they attached to the end of the shipping boxes. Those top quality oranges
were given the title "Fancy" fruit. Only the finest oranges
and lemons were supposed to be shipped under that brand name. They also
had a second quality brand. The second grade fruit was given the title
That method worked out reasonably well, but unfortunately some packers
were not as strict at grading as others were. When the SCFE realized
this they began to send agents to the packing houses to make unannounced
fruit inspections. This procedure established a more vigorously monitored
quality control system that has served the organization since it was
By 1906, the SCFE launched a campaign to advertise California oranges
and their benefits for good health. Des Moines, Iowa was selected as
the center for the campaign. The Southern Pacific Railway served as
a partner in this venture which went a long way in establishing good
will between the two organizations. Signage inside train cars and billboards
alongside the railroad tracks promoted the purchasing of California
oranges. In addition, many full page advertisements were run in newspapers
all across the state of Iowa.
As this first campaign was taking shape, the advertising agency in Chicago
that was handling the account suggested that the SCFE develop a simple,
easy to remember trademark name that would serve to identify the exchange
in advertising campaigns and would also serve as a trademark branding
on all the boxes of "Fancy grade" fruit sold through the exchange.
The name SUN-KISSED was first suggested, but after several discussions
with the advertising agency, the SUNKIST brand name was selected.
Records from the United States Patent Office show the name Sunkist
was first used publicly on October 10, 1907 to promote California oranges.
On June 5, 1908, the SCFE officially filed the trademark. Shortly after
they filed the papers, the SCFE ordered seven million labels with the
newly designed Sunkist "Sunburst" trademark. They were round
labels; four inches in diameter and were printed in two colors (illustrated
above). Six million of these were printed for Sunkist Oranges and one
million for Sunkist Lemons.
When the round labels arrived, the SCFE sent bundles of them to all
their affiliated packing houses. Instructions were given to paste the
round Sunkist sunburst label on top of an appropriate section of the
label they were already using to identify their boxes of Fancy quality
fruit. This meant that regardless of what the packers normal top quality
brand was, there would be an additional Sunkist trademark label to assure
the buyers that top grade standards were met on each box of oranges
or lemons on which the trademark appeared. The SCFE also insisted that
each orange, lemon or grapefruit inside the box was wrapped with a tissue.
Each of these tissues had the Sunkist sunburst trademark printed on
The round labels are the very first Sunkist labels and are quite rare
items. After 1908 the packers began ordering labels with the Sunkist
sunburst trademark lithographed right into the label design. In some
cases that addition required artists at the lithograph companies to
redesign part of the label or, in some cases, all of the label to accommodate
the circular Sunkist image.
One of the first of the custom made labels with the Sunkist sunburst
logo was Playmates Brand. It featured a little girl (Miss California)
and a little boy (Iowa). The little girl was sharing her California
oranges with him. She is in the California sunshine and he is in the
Iowa snow. The image on the Playmates label is almost exactly like the
image on the first Sunkist newspaper advertising campaign. Other versions
include the slogan "You throw snow balls for me and I will throw
oranges for you."
When the trademark was first added to the label designs, it appeared
in the full four-inch diameter format and in the original orange and
blue colors. But within a few years, affiliated citrus packers began
to use several different sizes and color variations of the same basic
sunburst trademark design. In many cases, the changes reflected the
desire to comply with the requirement of adding the Sunkist sunburst
trademark without ruining the look of the label design they already
had. That is why labels with the large, four-inch Sunkist sunburst trademark
are hard to find.
On January 5, 1909, the SCFE received the final notice that they were
officially the owners of the Sunkist trademark in the fresh fruit industry.
By that time many additional advertising campaigns had been launched
and the Lord and Thomas advertising agency, a pioneer in this form of
advertising, was featuring the Sunkist sunburst trademark prominently
on the advertising posters, billboards and magazine advertisements.
All these changes and compliances seemed like a lot of trouble, but
there was a very good reason why the Lord and Thomas agency and the
SCFE took this approach. The SCFE was spending a lot of money advertising
California oranges on a national level and their competitors were benefiting
almost as much as they were. When the Sunkist trademark logo began appearing
on the posters, billboards and magazine advertisements, wholesale and
retail fruit buyers could make the direct connection when they saw the
same Sunkist trademark logo on the box labels and on the tissue that
was wrapped around each piece of fruit.
Once everything lined up as planned, the campaign was a major success.
The sales of Sunkist oranges increased greatly, which helped propel
the SCFE into a leading position in the marketing of California citrus
fruits. It also served to convince thousands of additional citrus growers
that a grower-owned, co-operative marketing system could succeed. Citrus
growers from Northern and Central California and Arizona joined the
co-op which led to changing the name from Southern California Fruit
Exchange to the California Fruit Growers Exchange.
The Sunkist sunburst trademark played a key role in the success of those
early national advertising campaigns. The same basic design was used
on a regular basis up until about 1915. After that time the advertising
agency introduced several other Sunkist trademark designs, and by 1925
the original logo was almost entirely phased out. Today the citrus labels
with this logo are highly sought after as beautiful collector’s
items and also function to visually document a very important era in
the California citrus industry.
- Los Angeles Times Riverside, January 16, 1893.
- The History of the California Fruit Growers Exchange, MacCurdy,
- Author's interview with Levi Hershler, 1974.
- Author's interview with Raymond Soper, 1975.