SunMaid’s website has a timeline of the history of the raisin and the Fresno Historical Society tells the story of M. Theo Kearney, the Raisin King of Fresno, in a famous story about M. Theo Kearney’s accidental discovery of raisins! In 1873 commercial propagation of Thompson’s seedless grapes began in California. In Fresno County, on Kearney’s 6,800 acres known as Fruitvale Estates, a number of grape bunches dried up by accident, creating the first commercial raisin crop. It was transported to San Francisco and sold as a “Peruvian delicacy.” Raisins became the major source of Kearney’s wealth.
Kearney proposed the formation of the California Raisin Growers Association at a Fresno meeting of industry leaders in June of 1898. The purpose of this cooperative was to stabilize the raisin market through means of quality control, price setting, and shrewd marketing of California’s raisins. With Kearney as their first president, a membership drive attracted 90 per cent of the state’s raisin growers that year.
Hailed as the “Raisin King of Fresno,” Kearney was seen as the industry’s savior. However, the next eight years were stormy ones for the Association with intense conflicts and personality battles that weakened the effectiveness of Kearney’s concept of a strong raisin packing-marketing corporation. In the end, the original cooperative fell by the way only to reappear in 1912, after Kearney’s death, as the California Associated Raisin Company, which eventually became the Sun-Maid Company and, ultimately, the present-day corporate giant of Sun-Maid Growers of California.
Through the 1880s at just $3-to-$20 an acre, cheap land and an arid climate set the stage for widespread California raisin production in the areas east of Los Angeles and in the San Joaquin Valley. The Valley grew to be the dominant production area for the entire United States. The first Armenians arrived in Fresno County, bringing with them long-held expertise in raisin production. And by 1900, Raisin production spread widely outside of the Mediterranean and California, all the way to Australia and Chile.
From 1914-1918 during World War I, “war cakes” gained popularity again (first used during the Civil War), along with mock mince “meat” pies made with raisins. The dried grape also found favor as a portable and durable foodstuff for the Allied soldiers. With demand so strong for high-energy foods and sugar substitutes escalating during World War II, the War Production Board ordered California’s entire wine grape crop to be made into raisins in 1942.
During the Berlin Airlift children living in the isolated city of Berlin were delighted with packets of raisins dropped for their benefit by planes known as the “raisin bombers.”
Astronaut Scott Carpenter bit into a raisin-filled, granola-type confection, thus becoming the first person to carry and consume raisins in outer space in 1962!
Today – Polyphenolic chemical compounds! Found in high concentration in grapes and wine, they’re among the most talked-about dietary ingredients these days. Believed to promote good health since as far back as Roman times, polyphenolic compounds continue to be investigated by modern researchers looking into their antioxidant and other health properties.