Liberty Bell still ringing Washington Fruit & Produce Company has been using the Independence label since 1917.
The Piper and Gilt Edge labels are extremely rare. The only known original Gilt Edge label belongs to the Smithsonian.
One of the most familiar American patriotic symbols is the Liberty Bell, which is on display at Independence Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The image of this bell has, over the past nearly 100 years, become equally familiar on the Yakima, Washington, apple box label, Independent, which is used by Washington Fruit & Produce Company. The story of this company and the Independent label begins with one of the company's founders, Mark M. Pike, who was born in 1867 in New York State. Pike entered the lumber business in Michigan in the late 1800s, and in 1900 traveled to the Pacific Northwest to investigate other business opportunities. He liked what he saw but returned to Michigan to dispose of his interests there before moving to Yakima in 1906. He immediately bought three ranches in the Yakima Valley, one in Selah, one on the Naches River, and one on Nob Hill. All of these were planted in fruit trees.
In 1910, Pike went into partnership with Bert Blood, who had arrived in Yakima in 1904 and purchased an orchard himself three years later. Pike & Blood was formed to conduct a wholesale fruit business based in a long wooden building they had purchased on North First Avenue adjacent to what became known as Fruit Row. Gilt Edge Brand, the Pike & Blood label illustrated here, is extremely rare; the only known original copy belongs to the Smithsonian Institution. And it is unusual because the North Yakima Republic-Herald Printing Company of North Yakima, a division of the local newspaper, printed it.
Pike & Blood was dissolved in 1916 and reorganized under the name of Washington Fruit & Produce Company with Pike as president, Fred B. Plath as secretary-treasurer, and M.J. Hafener as vice-president and manager. Hafener was a local orchardist in the wholesale fruit business, who had sold his fruit under the Piper Brand label, which is also extremely rare. Plath had arrived in North Yakima in 1909. Born in 1881 in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, Plath worked in his father's flour mill after he finished high school, but when his parents retired, they moved to North Yakima, Washington, to be near a daughter who had moved west.
Plath came with his parents and for the next few years had a variety of jobs. He first became a bookkeeper for a bank in nearby Outlook, Washington; six months later he took a similar job with the local offices of the St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Company; he worked on a Columbia River tugboat; and he became a carpenter. His son, also named Fred Plath, remembers driving around the Yakima Valley with his father saying, "I built that house" or "There's another house I built."
When Pike, Plath, and Hafener joined together to form Washington Fruit, the new company immediately replaced the original wooden warehouse of Pike & Blood with a new brick structure that was 100 by180 feet and three stories in height. It had a storage capacity of two hundred railcars, and there were railroad tracks at each end of the building. This building was used for 65 years before being replaced by a new structure that is still in use. The new firm, beginning in 1917, marketed fruit under the Independent label.
Washington Fruit & Produce Company remains one of the most successful fruit companies in the United States, and continues to provide high quality fruit for sale under the Independent Brand label which features that well-known American patriotic symbol, the Liberty Bell.