Medium: Oak and cast metal
Classification: Decorative Arts, Metal
Credit Line: Gift of Drs. David G. Topel and Jay-lin Jane Topel. In the Topel and Cheng Art Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, IA.
Iowa State University, Farm House Museum
Object Number: UM2016.281
The cider press has a special place in American history from the first day that Europeans settled here all the way into the 20th century and even today. This particular press was manufactured by the Whitman Agricultural Company, St. Louis, MO, patented in July 1874.
Made of oak, one of the heaviest woods, and dark and tough cast iron that makes up the moving parts.
Apples go into the opening at the top while someone is turning the crank constantly. The crank turns a wheel that has teeth and edges cast into it so it mashes up the apples into chunks smaller than a golf ball. This process continues until the mash fills up the cloth-lined barrel underneath it. At that point, the barrel is slid over underneath the corkscrewed press. A top is placed on top of the apples and the wheel is turned to slowly crush all of the juice out of the apples. The juice seeps out through the cloth, onto the bottom tray and then it pours out and people collect it in whatever container they’re using. That cider is than loaded into barrels to ferment.
The cider made with a press like this in the 19th century and earlier was not meant to just be apple cider. Hard cider (alcoholic) was the main drink for Americans since they settled here in the 16th century. The grains and barely used for beer could not grow in the tough climate and soil of the east coast and the distillation process for liquor was too much work to be doing in what was considered the frontier. Apples trees were the perfect candidate and so it was common to see orchards on everyone’s farms and apple cider in every meal. The average person in 1750’s Massachusetts drank over 35 gallons of cider per year, even the kids.
The sharp decline of popularity for cider came in the 20th century for two main reasons. Many German and Eastern Europeans immigrants flooded into the country and they preferred beer. Combined with better refrigeration technology, beer and liquor became choice drinks. On top of that, cider did not recover as well as beer and liquor after Prohibition ended in 1933. Any orchards that survived the sudden drop in demand began cultivating sweeter apples for cooking and snacking and sweeter, non-alcoholic cider.