Silicon Valley History Online  

Prune Boom

10th or 11th Grade Social Studies


Benefits of Prunes

The students will explore the process of harvesting and canning prunes
and their benefits to Santa Clara Valley.

11.5.7, 11.6.4, 11.8.2

Two Days.

Interactive Slideshow

1. SVHO Images:
“Children Harvesting Prunes,”
“Panorama of Los Gatos in Blossom Time, ”
“Orchards and Foothills, Los Gatos, ”
“Heart’s Delight Prepared Prunes in Syrup, ”
“Prune Sorting,”
“Children and Adult Prune Pickers Posing with Full Buckets,”
“Orchard Scene,”
“Sunsweet California’s nature flavored apricots.”
“The California Prune, 1940 . ”

“Paying Prune”


Day One:

  1. As an introduction, give the students the following clues to this fruit and ask them to identify the answer. In 1940, California was the world’s largest producer of this fruit, with 70% of world supply and 99% of California supply. This fruit was originally brought to California from France during the Gold Rush. There are common recipes for this fruit in a wide variety of foods such as chili and ice cream. (Answer: PRUNES!)

  2. Talk briefly about Prunes and their background. Find out what the students know about prunes. For free samples bags of prunes, contact

  3. Print the recommended SVHO images for this lesson.

  4. Divide the class into pairs. Pass out the worksheet, “Paying Prune.” Instruct students they will be working to identify how the prune industry affected the economy and society of Santa Clara County.

  5. Debrief: Use the Essay on Agriculture to extend the learning of the general themes agriculture in the valley. You might discuss fruit production, working conditions, technology, transportation, or unions.

  6. Homework assignment would be to write a journal entry as if the students were a child worker in the prune industry. Half the students can write in support of child labor and half can write in rejection of child labor. Students can draw on internet sources below.

Day Two:

  1. Review with the students the information they researched on child labor in the United States in the eighteenth century.

  2. From the discussion, write on the board, “parents,” “owners,” and “union representatives.” Discuss with the students each perspective illustrating the differing values and motivations.

  3. Assign the students one of the roles of parent, owners or union representative to debate the issue of child labor in class. Once divided, have all the members of the three groups meet together to discuss strategy. After ten minutes, divide into groups of three to debate.

  4. During the debate, give each role 2 minutes to talk before rotating. After each role has debated, give one-minute rebuttals on a rotation. Listen for strong arguments with specific examples.

Alternative Activity for Advanced Students

  1. Urban legends are oral stories with an anonymous origin. One famous urban legend was that in 1905, a labor shortage in California resulted in farmers turning to monkeys to harvest this fruit. Have students research this story to find it’s origins.

Alternative Procedure for Elementary Students

  1. Go to to play some elementary games about prunes.

Debrief: Although the Pruning industry created new disadvantages mostly to the worker, it proved to be a boon to the local economy overall as well as provide for several positive effects in Santa Clara County such as transportation improvements and technology advancements. Politicians and civic leaders were eager to protect this new found asset.


  1. . This is a copy of the California Child Labor Laws in PDF format.
  2. This website details the child labor history from 1908-1912.
  3. The Illinois Labor History Society has published this webpage which describes working conditions and expectations in a nineteenth century mill.
  4. UNICEF provides a modern description of the child labor issue throughout the world.


Paying Prune

Print Paying Prune Handout

Directions: In pairs, thoroughly view the pictures as you look for economic and social benefits of the prune industry on Santa Clara Valley. Identify these benefits under the appropriate column below. Be prepared to discuss these points with specific examples from the images.


  1. “Children Harvesting Prunes”

  2. “Panorama of Los Gatos in Blossom Time”

  3. “Prune Sorting”

  4. “Children and Adult Prune Pickers Posing with Full Buckets”

  5. “Orchard Scene”

  6. “Sunsweet California’s nature flavored apricots.”

    • · What clue on the label portrays significant harm in eating prunes?