Citrus Packing Competition Activity

Historical Context

Once oranges are picked off of the trees they are transported to the packinghouse where they are processed and packed into crates to be shipped around the world. Historically women have worked in the packinghouses working long hours for what are called “piece rate wages” meaning that they were paid based upon how many cartons of oranges they packed in a day. The packer’s job was to take oranges off a conveyor belt, wrap oranges in a paper wrapper and neatly place them in a carton. This work was not just about speed, employers demanded that the women wrap each orange carefully and neatly, sloppy work was docked. Because women were paid based on how many crates they packed a day many women worked hard to pack as quickly and efficiently as they could.

Since the 1910s, the National Orange Show held in San Bernardino, California held a packing competition. Packers competed in front of an audience to see who could pack crates the quickest while still being neat and tidy.

Participants at this 1920s citrus competition are packing at full speed on stage

Participants at this 1920s citrus competition are packing at full speed on stage. You can see how they hold the wrapper in one hand and the orange in the other.

Vera Coyazo

Vera Coyazo was one of the fastest packers in Redlands! In the 1950s women who could pack over 100 boxes a day were invited to compete. Vera held the record for 7 minutes 12 and a half seconds.

While the competitions were often fun and celebratory they hid the reality of packing work. Women who could not pack fast enough were not guaranteed a living wage and could not afford what was needed to support themselves or their families.

Learning Goals

The goal is to physically show the difficulty and skill needed for packing work. Using the printable wage scale from 1933 participants can see how much money they would earn with their time.

Activity Rules

Rules can be found as a printable below

Packing citrus is about speed and precision.

Here is what you do:

  1. Wrap an orange in paper and twist the ends closed
  2. Place the orange in the carton with the twisted end facing down.
  3. Arrange the oranges in neat rows
  4. Keep going until you are done!

The Rules:

  1. For each poorly wrapped orange 7 seconds will be added to your final time
  2. Poorly organized or messy cartons will add a 45 second penalty

The time to beat is 55 seconds to be on par with some of the fastest packers in the 1950s.

Setting the Scene

Once you have two participants ready to compete you can set the scene. Before starting, explain the process of wrapping oranges, illustrating what a neatly wrapped orange looks like. Discuss that women in packinghouses were only paid based on how many crates of oranges they packed a day. Next show participants the wage scale, have them imagine they are living in 1933 and working as a citrus packer trying to make a living wage. Show them how fast they need to pack using the wage scale. You can also show them the leaderboard and how others have done to get participants excited about the competition. Use the stopwatch to begin the competition.

Necessary Materials List

  •  Oranges
    • Prior to the event take your crates and determine how many oranges fit into the box, use that amount of oranges per box. Make sure there is an equal amount of oranges per box.
  • Two orange crates (at least 17 x 19 x 9 inches)
    • Crates can be cardboard or other boxes
  • A place to put the oranges before they are wrapped
    • Can be a bowl or other box
  • A table or space
    • Make sure the space can accommodate setting up two cartons.
  • A stopwatch
  • Tissue Paper cut 10 x 10 inch squares
    • The number of paper squares depends on how many participants you expect as well as how many oranges participants are wrapping.
    • 10 x 10 inch is a recommendation, you can vary the size depending on the size of the oranges you are using.
    • It is also helpful to have a weight to keep the paper from flying away
    • Keep some extra tissue paper nearby if some of the wrappers rip or fly away.
  • Small white board for a “leaderboard”
    • Can use a large paper as well.
    • Make sure you have some markers to write down namesStamps (Audrey)
  • Printed Wage Scale and Packing Event Rules
  • Optional: prizes for winners and small treats for participants.

Event Prep

  1. Find two similarly sized crates.
  2. Using those crates, figure out how many similarly sized oranges it takes to fill each crate about a fourth of the way.
  3. Gather double that amount of similarly sized oranges (for the two crates).
  4. Print Wage Scale and Packing Event Rules
  5. Set up table with cartons and oranges.