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The History Of Dates  

The Beginning of Civilization The origin of the date palm is lost in antiquity. It gave a means of existence to thousands of people. It has been said to offer man "three hundred and sixty" uses including thread, needles, baskets, lumber, mattresses, rope, numerous other household items and an integral part of their diet. It is certain that the date palm grew between 4000-5000 years ago. Formerly known as Mesopotamia, The Garden Of Eden is supposed to lie at the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the beginning of mankind. The three ancient kingdoms of the area, Chaldea, Assyria and Babylonia all show the date palm flourished. The bas-reliefs in Nineveh, dating back to the Assyyrian empire shows date palms being blessed by angels. The Sumerians in the southern region of this area show cultivation before 3,000 B.C. and appear symbolically on pottery, seals and other common objects. The date gardens were well established throughout the region.


From Mummies to Meusli... In ancient Egypt the date palm was seen as a hieroglyph for a year and the frond as a month. Palm logs were used to roof the royal tombs of kings and dates were found buried with King Tutankhamen. The culture of dates is recorded at the time of Queen Hatsu in 1450 B.C. Pliny the Elder (circa A.D. 40) devoted an entire chapter in "Natural History" about date palms.

Seen akin to man, it is said the palm was fashioned from earth leftover from the creation of Adam. He stated: "The palm resembles man by its erect position and its height, by its separation in two sexes, and by its necessity for the pollination of the female. It its head is cut off it dies; if its heart is exposed to to great a strain, it perishes....If its leaves are cut off it can not grow others in the same place...It is covered with a fibre, too, as does man's hair." The angel Gabriel eventually appeared to Adam, saying: "You were created of the same material as this tree which shall nourish you". When Satan realizes the symbolism of the palm his tears created the spines on the leaves.

In Biblical Times...

The palm is thought to have been primarily an ornamental in early Biblical history (in the cooler, coastal climates) but was still a major motif in King Solomon's temple. In account in Exodus shows them camping under "threescore of palm trees; and camped there by the waters." Later it is said the palm served as a shelter to Mary when she gave birth to Jesus and eating the dates to ease the pain of the birth. The prophet Muhammad extoled its virtues in both public and private, existing for days at a time on dates and water.

Slowly, nomadic tribes spread the date palm to the Sahara desert about 2,000 years ago. The palms thrived in oases, creating a shaded microclimate suitable for growing other crops, including pomegranates, henna, citrus, grapes, olives and many other vegetables. Moorish tribes from Arabia eventually brought date palms across North Africa to Spain.

On to The New World...

Spanish padres first introduced in their mission gardens growing palms from seed. They are found in parts of the Caribbean, Brazil and throughout the Pacific Coast. The seed was carried along as the missions spread up Mexico. The palms were primarily symbolic since the damp coastal climate was unfavorable for producing fruit. Still the palms most likely gave comfort to the priests in the New World.

In 1890, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began to look at dates as a potential, commercial crop. They introduced offshoots from the Old World into Indio, Tulare, Pomona, National City, New Mexico and Arizona. These varieties did not do very well. The USDA realized they would need to send plant explorers and potential growers to North Africa and Iraq to obtain anything of commercial quality.

Visions of Production...

Dr. Walter T. Swingle was doing fig research in Naples in 1889. While in Algeria we became interested in the date palms managed by a French company. The following spring (1899) he was able to send a handful of Deglet Noor palms which were difficult to obtain and mishandled and died. Eventually, a handful of USDA researchers planted introduced offshoots of better varieties obtained from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq. Experimental plantings in Salt River Valley, Arizona and later Coachella Valley, California. Results of these experimental plantings led to large importations of offshoots of better varieties from Algeria and Iraq which made larger plantings possible.

In 1904, a USDA date experiment station was established near Mecca, California, by Bernard G. Johnson, often thought of as the "father" of the California date industry. However, it was moved a few years later just west of Indio, California due to flooding and formation of the Salton Sea. He imported the popular Deglet Noor for over twelve year period.

The Birth of An Industry By 1913 eight growers formed the Coachella Valley Date Growers Association. In 1924 the Date Institute was formed and held yearly meetings and publications to expand and disseminate information regarding date culture.

The Coachella Valley, located in the southern deserts of California, stretches from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea. It produces 35,000,000 pounds of dates, on average, annually. About 250,000 date palms are planted on approximately 5,000 acres in the valley. Every February since 1947 the National Date Festival in Indio, California has celebrated the end of the harvest. It is a lively celebration that draws up to 250,000 visitors.

The California Date Commission

The California Date Administrative Committee (CDAC) is a commodity board representing the producers and handlers of dates grown in the Coachella Valley. It was created in 1955 to help spread the news about the goodness of California dates and to bring dates to America's table all year round. The Committee's rules and regulations along with USDA inspection and certification ensure that all California dates meet the highest standards for quality, consistency and wholesomeness. The Committee also works with foodservice operators, retailers and the public to promote wider usage of California Date.

The California Date Commission (CDC) was established in 1996 to expand the impact of the promotional efforts of the California date industry, and promotes California Dates nationally and internationally. It also strives to educate the public about California Dates.

The CDAC and the CDC want everyone to know just how superb California Dates really are. The promotional activities of the CDAC and the CDC are directed toward both the commercial and the consumer users of dates. Through its promotional activities and efforts, the California Date industry emphasizes the consistent, high quality and year-round availability of our California Dates. visit these other historical links... History of American Agriculture 1776-1990.


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