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Food Processing


Before the Civil War, food processing in Texas was restricted chiefly to local and regional markets. Milling for a local market was the first food-processing industry in the state and has continued to be one of the most important overall industries, with the market expanding considerably. Milling was the first-ranking of all Texas industries in 1850, 1860, and 1880; it ranked second in 1890 and 1910, third in 1900, and fourth in 1920, 1930, and 1940. The baking industry did not become prominent in Texas until the 1850s, and until about 1900 bakeries were operated in conjunction with confectioneries. Extensive marketing of bakery goods was limited by transportation facilities. The industry was characterized by small, local plants until the development of a good highway system. By 1940 baking had become the sixth-ranking industry in the state. Dehydration of fruits and vegetables was perhaps the earliest method of food preservation practiced in Texas. In 1836 Mary Austin Holley judged dried foods an important article of produce, but because of their supposed unappetizing appearance and taste, extensive production of them has been limited to times of stress, particularly wartime. The dehydration industry expanded temporarily during World War I and again during World War II, but generally other methods of food preservation have been preferred on the competitive market. During the first decade of the twentieth century the canning industry moved into areas of the state where fruits and vegetables were produced in significant quantities, especially the lower Rio Grande valley. Commercial quick freezing was added to industrial canning after World War II. Both canning and freezing are periodic industries that support migrant workers. The development of the quick-freezing process and the rapid expansion of the freezing industry was accompanied by the opening of hundreds of cold-storage locker plants throughout the state and a large sale of home freezer units (see REFRIGERATION).

After the Civil War and the rise of the cattle trade, meat packing grew sharply into prominence. By 1900 it was the sixth-ranking industry in the state and the second-ranking food-processing industry. In 1910 it became the state's most important industry and has remained significant among food industries. Meat packing has become specialized along several major lines: custom slaughtering, wholesale meat packing, poultry dressing and packing, and the manufacture of sausages and other prepared foods. One of the earliest prominent processing industries was the making of liquors and malts. As early as the 1850s Texans were producing not inconsiderable amounts of whiskey, peach and grape brandy, and rum to be sold at local groceries. The making of liquors and malts was the sixth-ranking industry in Texas in 1860. Mustang grape wine became a specialty in some areas of the state, and by 1885 a Texan had patented a beer cooler for use in saloons and hotels, although most of the beer consumed in Texas was then imported. By 1890 Anhaeuser-Busch had opened a brewery in Houston and two breweries had been established in San Antonio. The brewing industry expanded until the prohibition fight and eventually was closed by law on June 25, 1918. With the repeal of prohibition, breweries again became an important Texas industry. In 1948 the industries classified by the United States Bureau of the Census as Food and Kindred Products were the second-ranking industrial group in the state. Of the Food and Kindred Products, grain-mill products, including flour and meal, prepared animal feeds, and white rice, ranked first according to value added by manufacture. Meat (including poultry) products ranked second. Bakery products ranked third and beverages, including soft drinks, fourth. The food-processing industry employing the largest number of persons was wholesale meat packing; bakeries were second. There were in 1948 a total of 2,029 establishments engaged in some phase of food processing, employing a yearly average of 57,784 persons at a total annual salary of $130,543,000. These plants added by manufacture $387,558,000 to Texas agricultural products.

General food processing and associated industries as a whole in 1953 employed the greatest number of Texas workers among Texas industries. Employing 59,209 people, this industry had a value added by manufacture of $498,226,000. Throughout the 1950s the industry remained the least mechanized and the largest industrial employer in the state. Subsequent expansion of Texas food-processing plants and associated industries ranged from new breweries to rice-packaging plants. Expansion in the beverage industry was particularly great; by the mid-1960s Texas ranked among the leading states in the production of beer and canned soft drinks. Four nationwide companies operated breweries in Texas in 1965. In 1995, there were five nationally owned breweries and one Texas owned, Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, in operation. Overall, beverage production in the state grossed $2.5 billion in gross sales in 1993. By the early 1960s meat-packing plants generally decentralized and built new, small plants far from their traditional centers and close to their raw materials. High wage rates and obsolescence in old centers, as well as abundant labor in small rural communities, influenced this relocation. In 1993, Texas had seventy-one producers of meat products, which generated more than $3 billion in sales. A $20 million sugar-processing plant with a capacity of 600 tons of beets a day was constructed in Hereford. In 1964 beet sugar was made in Texas for the first time. By 1990 Texans planted more than 41,000 acres of sugar beets with a total production of 1,013,000 tons. Deaf Smith, Castro, Parmer, and Swisher counties were the leading producers. In 1964 the food-processing and associated industries employed more than eighty thousand workers, or approximately 13.2 percent of the state's total workforce. Value added by manufacture totaled $923,362,000, and capital investment in the industry as a whole amounted to more than $500 million. A 1965 survey indicated that the industry had expanded 15 percent over the previous year because of population growth, larger family incomes, and greater agricultural production. Many nonindustrial towns benefited from this expansion. The Paris soup cannery, the Corsicana potato-chip plant, and the Plainview castor-bean processing facility were all examples of the expansion and decentralization of the food-processing and associated industries. By 1973, 85,000 Texans were employed in food processing, more than in any other manufacturing industry. Nearly $5 billion worth of food products was being shipped annually. In the 1990s the industry continued to be a leading employer, with over 97,000 Texans holding jobs in food processing and kindred fields in 1994. See also AGRICULTURE, SOFT-DRINK INDUSTRY, SUGAR PRODUCTION.

Leo C. Haynes, Manufacturing in Texas: A Statistical Story (M.B.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1929). William R. Hogan, The Texas Republic: A Social and Economic History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946; rpt. 1969). Mary Austin Holley, Texas (Lexington, Kentucky: J. Clarke and Company, 1836; rpts., Austin: Steck, 1935; Texas State Historical Association, 1985). Ashley Wood Spaight, The Resources, Soil and Climate of Texas (Galveston: Belo, 1882). Ralph W. Steen, Twentieth Century Texas: An Economic and Social History (Austin: Steck, 1942).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Food Processing,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 22, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.