Call it an early version of viral marketing. Promoters of two products -- a fruit and the region that grew it -- created hundreds of images of oranges, orange trees, and orange groves during the reign of Southern California's Orange Empire. They then leveraged the social network of the time -- the mail -- to broadcast those images far and wide. And, these promoters didn't pay a cent; tourists purchased the images as picture-postcards and then bought the stamps that carried them across the nation.
A new book by David Boulé, "The Orange and the Dream of California," collects many of those images into 176 richly illustrated pages, exploring the historical associations between the Golden State and the "golden apple."
Published by Angel City Press, the book draws from the extensive private collection the author has assembled over many years. Boulé has found some 600 distinct postcard images alone -- some of them serially reproduced and retouched, evolving with each printing. Also in his collection: electric juicers, packing crates, and even silverware that was part of a clever Sunkist marketing campaign. All these documents and artifacts help Boulé answer questions like: Why did oranges take root in California? What was the relationship with that other Los Angeles-area industry, the motion picture business? And how was orange juice invented?
In a phone interview, I asked Boulé -- a longtime L.A. as Subject member -- to elaborate on some of the themes he raises in his book. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.