Fruit Gauge

A fruitful device

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by Tom Wancho, Exhibit Planner

For nurseries scattered throughout the lower Rio Grande Valley, the citrus fruit industry is big business. Customer preferences and quality control mean that consistency in the size of the fruit picked has been monitored closely for decades and yet is still an inexact science. This wooden gauge was used to measure the diameter of oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits in La Feria, Texas in the 1930s.

Ruby Red grapefruits are picked at various stages in the season from November through May. To determine which grapefruits were ready to pick, a wooden fruit gauge was used to check the size of a ripe fruit. A grower would place the fruit on the ruler and slide the caliper to measure its diameter in millimeters. The size could then be compared to the U.S. Standard diameters for each fruit listed on the gauge.  

After recording the ripe fruit’s size, the grower sent harvesters out in the grove to pick the fruit which best matched the size he or she knew to be ripe. Ideally, the pickers harvested the right size fruit, leaving the smaller fruit on the trees to mature. But because the pickers did not have a gauge with them in the field, their work was often imprecise. When the selected fruit was taken to the packing warehouse, machines further sorted the fruit into matching sizes.

Today, pickers are given a set of metal rings in graduated sizes. Sliding the selected fruit through the different rings makes it easier and more efficient to determine the size it matches. The practice is called “ring picking.” Although experienced pickers might be able to estimate size by sight, tools such as ring pickers have proved invaluable.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Fruit Gauge Artifact from Edinburg, Texas
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