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The Martinelli family quickly became rooted in the Watsonville community.

In 1889 Stephen married Jane Leask, and they lived together in a house they built next door to the cider factory on Beach Street. They had three children: Stephen, Anna, and Leask. Stephen, Jr. would one day take his father’s place as head of the company. 35

In 1890, at the California State Fair, Martinelli’s cider won its first gold medal, the highest honor of the competition. It earned subsequent gold medals in the San Francisco Midwinter Fair (1894), the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta (1895), the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo (1901), and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle (1909), just to name a few. Martinelli’s earned its Gold Medal brand, which it would later trademark, and expanded distribution of its product geographically into San Francisco, and into surrounding states including Arizona. Business increased as the company garnered more and more attention across the country. 36

Against this backdrop of challenges, the Depression Era was important for Martinelli’s, defined by the introduction of its signature, apple-shaped, glass jug. Known as the Golden Apple,® it led to soaring recognition of the brand on the West Coast. Part of the “Golden Apple” appeal came in the crisp look of the juice in the apple-shaped bottle. Using special filters designed and built by Stephen, Jr. himself, the filtration system produced crystal clear, golden apple juice. Along with his slogan, “Drink your apple a day,” ® it conveyed to the consumer the wholesomeness of the 100% pure apple juice inside. Grocery stores featured this unique and eye-catching design in fantastic displays. The Golden Apple® became one of Martinelli’s most widely distributed items, and the largest seller up to this point. Customers reacted to the innovative packaging by turning the bottles, once the juice was consumed, into works of art. The half-gallon jugs were frequently converted into lamp bodies, and the smaller 7-ounce bottles were repurposed into salt and pepper shakers. 65

The Great Depression ended for the nation in 1939, but for Martinelli’s, the slump continued into the next generation when another global event took its toll on the company. In September of 1939, Germany’s invasion of Poland began World War II. The United States officially entered the conflict in December of 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Wartime rationing led to shortages of common supplies for many American businesses, and Martinelli’s was no exception. “During the war it was practically impossible to obtain replacement parts,” Stephen wrote in a letter,12 and it was a time when the company desperately needed to upgrade its equipment, particularly its filtration system. Consequently, components often broke, causing the production line to be shut down for repairs. In light of the deficiency of materials, such as various metals, the company was forced to adjust its practices. For one, it discontinued production of its trademarked Golden Apple jug for the duration of the war, and replaced it with a standard, gallon-sized glass jug. Although Martinelli’s could not obtain packaging supplies for its apple juice products, due to rationing, it could get them for the CocaCola it would sell under contract to the military bases in Central California. Service members had a powerful thirst for Coke, and Stephen, Jr. quickly recognized and seized the opportunity to reclaim all of the bottle caps from the Coca-Cola business, and reuse them on Martinelli’s sparkling apple juice bottles. 83

The company concluded the 1960s by launching a new fermented, apple product similar to mulled wine. Old Fashioned Wassail, as it was called, was meant to be served hot. Martinelli’s also debuted new packaging of its Old Fashioned Hard Cider, for better product visibility and identification in stores. 121

Shorty working on the production line bottling sparkling apple juice.

T his hard cider label, known as the “Old Timer,� was created and drawn by Stephen C. Martinelli.


In 1974, more stores began carrying Martinelli’s non-alcoholic sparkling cider, and the Certified Grocers of California, the nation’s largest grocery wholesaler at the time, started selling it year-round rather than seasonally. Even international interest in the sparkling cider increased, and Martinelli’s shipped, for the first time, 500 cases of it to Saudi Arabia. 127

In 1976, California entered one of its worst dry weather periods in recorded history. The following year, the California Department of Water Resources upgraded the “dry spell” to a drought. As it was obvious that water could not be replenished at the rate it was being used, Governor Jerry Brown in his State of the State message urged residents to conserve.19 Though most Californians could do so, farmers could not sustain their crops without sufficient water. That apple harvest yielded among the smallest quantity in 10 years. The fruit that survived produced less juice. This meant Martinelli’s had to slash its juice production, which shrank revenue and profit for the ensuing few years.

In 1979,

Stephen’s eldest son, John, graduated from Stanford University with a degree in economics. He joined the company as Assistant Manager and began learning all things Martinelli’s from his father.

In the prior two decades,

Martinelli’s overcame an economic slump, an employee upheaval and a near-catastrophic drought to keep the family legacy and apple cider-making tradition alive and prosperous. It made efforts to keep pace with advancing technology and demand for its products by upgrading, automating, and modernizing equipment and production processes. It accomplished this while maintaining what Stephen C. called its basic business philosophy, and what most would call a family tradition. 132

Despite not knowing how consumers would receive them, Martinelli’s decided to respond to some sluggish sales by introducing new flavors to its sparkling apple-blend juice line — apple-raspberry, apple-cherry, apple-mango, applepeach, apple-pear, and John’s personal favorite, apple-marionberry. Though the traditional Gold Medal sparkling cider would remain the top-selling product in the category, the blended juices would greatly expand the overall product volume and variety that Martinelli’s offered.

Concurrently, the company also developed a plastic version of its trademarked Golden Apple bottle. This opened its market to venues where glass bottles were prohibited, like schools and playing fields. Interestingly, the plastic bottle had been in prototype development and testing mode for a few years because it presented a challenge: how to get the flexible plastic to keep its apple shape through the pasteurization and refrigeration process. Typically, Martinelli’s apple juice was (and is) pasteurized at 180 degrees Fahrenheit, poured into glass bottles, which are then capped, and cooled to a refrigeration temperature of 45 degrees F. Plastic bottles, however, collapsed as a result of the temperature decrease causing an internal vacuum. Engineers eventually solved the problem by inserting a small drop of liquid nitrogen in each bottle before capping. This created enough pressure to counterbalance the suction effect, and allowed the Golden Apples to retain their beloved shape.


Stephen fully turned over the presidential reins to his son, John, in November 2006. John would later reflect: Unlike our forefathers, who mostly guided the company as sole proprietors during their careers, my dad and I had the great fortune of working side by side for 33 years. Typical of many father and son teams, I brought some youthful exuberance to the table, while he tempered my enthusiasm by applying the voice of reason to our business decisions.35 Stephen retained his position as Chairman of the board and would continue to provide input, oftentimes the words of caution for which he was known, whenever the topic of growth strategies would be raised. Now, John would take his 27 years of experience and apply them to the continued growth and advancement of the family business. It would not be long before he would have to guide it through a national, economic crisis.




Since 1885, the East Beach plant served as a place for people to buy their juice directly from the source, but this has recently changed. To provide a place where the people of Watsonville and visitors may stop in at Martinelli’s, and buy its products, the business debuted its Company Store and Visitor Center in 2015 on Harvest Drive. “The company welcomed community members and showed off the store, an open, well-lit place with natural wood highlights and shelves chock full of products,”41 wrote the Register-Pajaronian about the grand opening. The museum in the store features displays of bottles, photographs, letters, and vintage labels, and a tasting area for sampling all of its sparkling and still juices, even flavors unavailable in grocery stores. History is literally built into this space, as redwood cider tanks that the company used decades ago are now the shelves and cases that display relics of Martinelli’s past. The entire facility commemorates 150 years of hard work, family tradition, and countless amounts of cider production. Also, with its store and visitors center, Martinelli’s joins numerous breweries and wineries throughout Watsonville in making their pioneering town a destination for travelers to the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz areas.

John Martinelli takes the wheel of Fred Hillman’s 1932 Ford Model B delivery truck. T his truck is being

restored in celebration of Martinelli ’s 150th anniversary.

S. Martinelli & Company Celebrating 150 Years Book  

S. Martinelli & Company celebrates its 150th anniversary with a beautiful keepsake that chronicles our rich company history. This premium qu...

S. Martinelli & Company Celebrating 150 Years Book  

S. Martinelli & Company celebrates its 150th anniversary with a beautiful keepsake that chronicles our rich company history. This premium qu...