Last Bite - Royal purple reigns
Marketing savvy served C.M. Holtzinger well.
Purple tissue wrap enhanced Holtzinger apples and inspired a new line of labels.
Charles M. Holtzinger (more familiarly known as C.M. Holtzinger) was one of the few Pacific Northwest fruit industry pioneers who had roots in an orcharding family. His grandfather had planted an orchard as part of his 120-acre farm in Hamburg, Iowa, in the decade before the Civil War. It was on this farm that C. M. was born in 1874. His father, who had enlisted as a private in the Fourth Iowa Cavalry in the Civil War, returned to the Iowa farm, married, and soon had a family to support. However, after he passed away in 1879, five-year-old C.M. and his three siblings helped their mother run the farm.
Holtzinger might well have spent his life in the agriculture business in Iowa had it not been for a severe drought in 1894. The farm could no longer sustain the family, and C.M took a job packing apple
barrels. Two years later, C.M. and a partner went into business marketing fruit on their own.
In 1902, C.M. took a position with E.P. Stacy & Sons of Minneapolis, Minnesota, as a fresh-fruit buyer for the firm. This job took him all over the United States, eventually west to Colorado and Utah. He was in Brigham City, Utah, when the home office sent a letter directing C.M. to buy apples in Washington State. He went first to Walla Walla, where he was told that there were only two places in the state to buy apples—Yakima and Wenatchee. Holtzinger chose Yakima because it was closer. Each fall, from 1909 to 1912, Holtzinger worked as an apple buyer for Stacy & Sons, but each winter during those years he worked for himself in California and Florida as a buyer of grapefruit, oranges, and vegetables. Finally, in 1912, he dropped his connection with Stacy, went into business for himself full time, and established the C.M. Holtzinger Fruit Company in Yakima.
In the early years, most of the new company's apples were purchased in Zillah. Hence, the first Holtzinger label was the Big Z. This later morphed into the Blue Z, the Red Z, and the Yellow Z for the three grades of fruit. Zillah did not have a railroad connection at that time, and Holtzinger had to haul all of his apples to Toppenish for shipment by horse and wagon.
He later bought his first warehouse, in Zillah, which held just two carloads. In 1915, he rented a warehouse behind the Yakima Grocery Company in the City of North Yakima, and thereby expanded his storage capacity by ten additional cars. Three years later, the company constructed a 100,000-box warehouse in Yakima and a somewhat smaller one in Cowiche.
This new Yakima facility was a high-quality, two-story brick building, equipped with a ladies' restroom (unusual at the time) and supplied with gas and water so the female employees could cook their own meals. This plant burned and was rebuilt twice in the next few years, once in 1922 and again in 1926. In the 1950s and early 1960s, a new packing plant and controlled atmosphere storage was built on North Sixth Avenue in Yakima. The company remains in operation at this location.
The strength and growth of the C.M. Holtzinger Fruit Company was a direct result of C.M.'s marketing genius. He was bothered by the fact that beige squares of tissue paper apple wrap were exceedingly dull and did not show off the fruit to its best advantage. Thus, C.M. decided to switch the color of his tissue paper wrap to dark purple. This was the impetus for an entirely new line of labels, the Royal Purple, the Regal Red, and the Emerald Green. These were the Holtzinger Company's signature labels for many years, but there were others as well. There is a Black Diamond label, which was used rarely, and the only known copy is today owned by one of C.M.'s grandsons. The circa 1930 Doc Yak label, the only known original example of which is owned by the Yakima Valley Museum, is one of the best-designed fruit labels ever made. However, there was a popular newspaper cartoon series featuring Doc Yak at the same time, and the cartoon creators and distributors charged copyright infringement. Holtzinger was forced to withdraw his new label. Some years later, Holtzinger tried another new label, the Purple Cow, but for various reasons, it did not capture market attention and was also quickly discontinued.
Nevertheless, C.M. Holtzinger, through a combination of hard work and marketing savvy, created a fruit industry legend that was not only a financial success story for nearly a century but also resulted in labels that are highly prized by many collectors.