United States cranberry barrel


In the United States, the cranberry barrel, a unit of mass = 100 pounds net weight since at least the middle of the 20ᵗʰ century. It is a unit of account used by growers, food processors and government statisticians. Prior to that (definition 2, below) the cranberry barrel was a legal unit of capacity, as well as an actual object whose dimensions were set by law.

As agriculture became increasingly industrialized, demand grew to measure agricultural commodities by weight instead of volume. Measuring with scales eliminates the level vs stricken problem, and is often more reproducible and less labor-intensive. By the early 20ᵗʰ century, a number of states had specified a weight to be deemed a bushel of cranberries (Indiana, 33 lb; Massachusetts, 32 lb; Michigan, 40 lb; Minnesota, 36 lb; New Hampshire, 32 lb; see text of some of the laws).¹

Such standards, varying from state to state, create a problem for buyers and sellers. In 1914 and again in 1916 (H.R. 150) bills were introduced in Congress “to establish a standard of weights for various commodities”. H.R. 150 called for “cranberries, 32 pounds per bushel”². The 100-pound cranberry barrel replaced the legal 5,826-cubic inch cranberry barrel as a result of these pressures.

The 100-pound cranberry barrel appears to have come from earlier definitions of the cranberry barrel's capacity, legal definitions which preceded even the 1915 national standard cranberry barrel. An 1875 law from Massachusetts, a key player:

Section 24. The legal and standard measure of a barrel of cranberries shall be one hundred quarts and of a crate of cranberries thirty-two quarts, level measure, and every manufacturer of barrels or crates for cranberries shall plainly brand or mark thereon his name and the words “Massachusetts standard measure”. Whoever brands or marks upon any barrel or crate for cranberries of a smaller capacity than is so prescribed, the words “Massachusetts standard measure”, shall for each offence forfeit two dollars to the use of the person bringing the action.

The Revised Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, enacted November 21, 1901, to take effect January 1, 1902. Vol. 1, Chapters 1-108.
Boston: Wright and Potter Printing Company, 1902.
Page 561.

A bushel being 32 quarts, a 100-quart barrel is 3.125 bushels. Taking cranberries to weigh 32 lbs per bushel, the 3.125-bushel barrel weighs 100 pounds net.

1. United States. Congress. House. Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures.
Establishment of Standard Weights for Various Commodities: Hearings on H.R. 150. 64th Cong., 1st Sess. January 20 and 27, 1916.
Washington: U.S. GPO, 1916.
PDF from Google Books or via HathiTrust https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100565244
Page 58.

2. The above, page 4.



[Gilbert T. Beaton, Secretary, Cranberry Marketing Committee, in testimony before the House, June 5, 1956]

Cranberry production figures are stated in barrels as a matter of record. It may be well to state that no barrels are now used for market distribution. The distribution of cranberries in the fresh fruit market is entirely in smaller containers: consumer 1-pound cellophane packs, or 1-pound window box packs, packed 24 to the master container. For processors, a barrel is 100 pounds net.

United States. House. Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Domestic Marketing. 84ᵗʰ Congress, second session, 1956.
Cranberries. Hearing on H. R. 8384.
Serial BBB.
Washington: USGPO, 1956.


A barrel weighs 100 pounds.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Cranberries, August 17, 1999.
NASS Fact Finders for Agriculture.
Page 2, footnote 1.


packing cranberries in barrels

Photographer, W.L. Kelley. Courtesy Harwich Historical Society.

In the United States, a unit of capacity for cranberries.

In the 19ᵗʰ century the capacity of cranberry barrels had been defined by various state legislatures¹, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. The sizes of these barrels had been largely harmonized around 1903.

In 1912 Congress passed an act specifying the size of the apple barrel [Full text]. Its capacity was set at 7056 cubic inches.


A national, and subsequently by Congress in 1915.² The cranberry barrel was to have:

The standard barrel for cranberries shall be of the following dimensions when measured without distention of its parts: Length of staves, twenty-eight and one-half inches; diameter of head, sixteen and one-fourth inches; distance between heads, twenty-five and one-fourth inches; circumference of bulge, fifty-eight and one-half inches, outside measurement; and the thickness of staves not greater than four-tenths of an inch.

The new law went into effect on 1 July 1916.

The capacity of the cranberry barrel was not specified in the act, but later regulations defined it as 5,826 cubic inches (approximately 95.471 liters).

1. We provide a selection of such state laws.

2. March 4, 1915 c 168 §1, 38 Stat. 1186. The text and a discussion of its constitutionalty, especially in comparison to the earlier apple barrel law.

A tin marked quarter cranberry barrel



United States. House. Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures.
Hearings on H. R. 5956, 1741, 17822, and 17936.
62nd Congress, second session, 1912.
Page 4.


Mr. FRENCH. This bill was introduced at the instance of our organization. Since the time of its introduction we have been approached by the cranberry interests, with a view to injecting an exception in the bill regarding the cranberry industry. We had a meeting in New York last week to give this matter consideration, at which there was a full representation of their interests, and after hearing their objections, which are based on the fact that there are already uniform laws in the three principal cranberry-producing States giving them a satisfactory standard package, and due to the fact that the use of this barrel as prescribed in the bill would be an injury to their trade, we have agreed to their representations, and respectfully request the chairman of this committee to inject an amendment in the bill providing such exception that will exclude cranberries.

The CHAIRMAN. Will you just state the amendment as you think it ought to be adopted?

Mr. FRENCH. We ask that on line 3 of the bill, following the word, “fruits and vegetables,” the words “except for cranberries” be inserted.

The CHAIRMAN. And the reason for that is what?

Mr. FRENCH. Simply that they have already satisfactory uniform laws in the three principal cranberry-producing States.


Mr. CUMMINGS. We are perfectly satisfied throughout the whole country with the present cranberry barrel and crate as described in the acts of the states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin, which are, I think, practically identical, especially as to cubic capacity.

Mr. REES. What is that capacity?

Mr. CUMMINGS. The dimensions are practically the same, so as to allow the same contents. We have asked for this amendment, because the standard package at present in use is satisfactory to all the interests of the trade, the amendment suggested being agreeable to all the members of the committee having this proposed legislation charge.


We were up against this same difficulty a number of years ago in the cranberry business; there were all sizes of barrels in which they were shipped; one used in Wisconsin was so small they called it the “nail keg.” But they finally got together in Massachusetts and studied the question and fixed on the maximum size of barrel which would carry cranberries safely to destination.

The CHAIRMAN. And what standard did they adopt?

Mr. CHENEY. They adopted the barrel that had been in use in Massachusetts as being the maximum sized barrel which would carry cranberries with safety to a reasonable destination. The only reason we didn't ask that this standard for a cranberry barrel be put in this bill was to avoid confusion. It was our intent, if this bill were to go through, to then present another bill making a national law for cranberry barrels and boxes.

The CHAIRMAN. Why treat cranberries different from other fruits?

Mr. CHENEY. The barrel I have suggested as the maximum size that will carry cranberries safely to destination is best, owing to the weight and nature of the gruit [sic]. But for a full answer to that question I would like to give way to some of the growers here. There are several very large growers here, some of them presidents of State organizat1ons, who were on the committee and studied this thing thoroughly. They can answer that question better than I can.

The CHAIRMAN. The barrel provided for in this bill is larger than the present standard for a cranberry barrel?

Mr. CHENEY. About 20 per cent larger.

The CHAIRMAN. Too large for practical purposes in that industry?

Mr. CHENEY. In my opinion if we had to adopt that it would eliminate barrels as containers in the cranberry business. We could not ship them in that barrel.

Mr. TUTTLE. What is the cubic capacity of your cranberry barrel?

Mr. CHENEY. Five thousand nine hundred and forty cubic inches.

Mr. RILEY. And what is the difference in percentage?

Mr. CHENEY. Nineteen and one-half per cent.

Mr. RILEY. Smaller than the present proposed barrel?

Mr. CHENEY. Yes, sir.

Mr. CURLEY. As a matter of fact, you can not ship cranberries in a barrel that has bulged sides?

Mr. CHENEY. No. sir; the barrel should have straight sides, or almost so. Owing to the smallness of the fruit it will not hold together as will apples, and it seems to require a stronger barrel. We can't use a barrel that has a large bulge to it. Even now the Milwaukee road is asking us to consider a plan that will avoid even the slight bulge that our barrels now have. We have a great many broken packages now, and they are asking us to take timbers and lay on the ends of the barrels to prevent the barrels from laying on top of each other.


Mr. REES. Why can't cranberries be handled in boxes or half barrels, so as to avoid the confusion you refer to?

Mr. CHENEY. We have State laws covering the size of boxes in which we ship cranberries, and we do ship a great many in boxes. We have a standard-size box, as well as a barrel, and the box contains just one-third the amount the barrel does. And if we should present a bill asking for a national standard of cranberry package, we would have it specify cranberry boxes as well as barrels.



Mr. BRIGGS. But finally, realizing all the troubles that were brought about by the varying standards, the cranberry growers fixed on a standard, and we have had that now for 10 years, practically the same in all the States, and as it is satisfactory to the trade it would, of course, be better not to disturb it. But there is another and very important reason why we don't want to change our standard, and that is that the fruit will not carry in a larger package or in any package with a large bulge. Cranberries have to be handled very carefully to get them safely to market. It is a very tender fruit, and in order to prevent the berries from becoming loose in transit and bruising one another they have to be pressed close in the barrel, and if you increase the size of the package that pressure has got to be increased proportionately. When we pack the barrels in the cars, and on the wagons when going to the cars, and when they are stored in the city storehouses, we have to place them on the bulge, because the weight of the berries, when the barrel is placed the other way, gradually settles down and is too heavy on the berries at the bottom of the barrel. When they are laid on the side the bulge and the hoops take part of the pressure. I agree with the other reasons Mr. Cheney has given you as to why we can not use a bigger package. We believe that a standard package is a great benefit; we have found it so in the cranberry business; and we believe that the plan of this whole bill is essential and important to the fruit nnd produce business.

The CHAIRMAN. You say on account of the tender nature of the fruit that the capacity of the barrel is too large as we have it here in this bill. Do you know of any other branch of the fruit industry that would probably offer the same objection?

Mr. BRIGGS. No, sir; I don't think so. Cranberries are different from other fruits. They are quite elastic; very much like a rubber ball. When you release the pressure on them they will come back to the original form. As far as I am a judge of other fruit none of them will do like that. Any pressure on them will leave a dent, but the cranberry will come right back to its original shape. When they are packed the barrel head is pressed down tight, and when it is released the berries will lift the head right up.


Mr. RIDER. My business is growing cranberries.

The CHAIRMAN. Do you represent any particular organization here this morning?

Mr. RIDER. I represent the American Cranberry Growers' Association, of which I have been secretary for 40 years.

My attention was first called to this bill about three days ago, and I thought at once that it was not the proper thing for the cranberry growers. I had had a good deal of experience in trying to regulate and secure a uniform standard package for cranberries through out the country. I think the standard crate, which is now the standard for Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, originated with me after a careful study of the size of the package that was necessary to ship cranberries in, and that has been fully explained by Mr. Briggs. I do not think it ought to be changed. Mr. Briggs has referred to the elasticity of the fruit. If we made a package that would hold the cubical contents of a bushel when we came to pack cranberries in it for shipment we would have to put a good deal more than 32 quarts in it, and the same thing would be true of a barrel, because when we pack cranberries in the present barrel we put a screw press on and press them into the package, and when that lid is taken off they rise right up. This is the only fruit that is packed in that way.

screw press forces down barrel head

Courtesy Harwich Historical Society