The apple played a prominent role in the Garden of Eden, and it seems likely that apple cider has been around nearly as long. Certainly apple trees grew along the Nile River as early as 1300 B.C. Did the ancient Egyptians drink cider? We may never know — but we do know that a cider-like beverage was common in England as early as 55 B.C.
In fact, apple orchards and apple cider were an important part of the English economy as early as the 9th century. Monks produced vast amounts of cider as a commodity, and farm workers’ wages were sometimes paid in cider. By the middle of the 17th century, nearly every farm in England had its own cider orchard and mill or press.
European settlers carried apple seeds when they set out for the New World. At that time, grain was difficult to cultivate and costly to import. Apples were plentiful, cheap and easily obtained, making cider a popular commodity, whether used fresh (juice) or fermented (hard cider and apple cider vinegar). The first apple orchard in America was planted near Boston in the 1630s. In the late 1700s, John Chapman — more commonly known as Johnny Appleseed — launched a campaign to plant apple trees across America, further fueling demand for apple cider.
By the 1860s, cider mills and presses were commonly used throughout America. A farm implement line produced by P.P. Mast & Co., Springfield, Ohio, included apple presses. Hocking Valley Mfg. Co., Lancaster, Ohio, produced a junior-size cider press that featured components made of cast iron. A.B. Farquhar Co., York, Pa., produced the American cider press equipped with a substantial flywheel and a heavy wooden bar used to apply substantial pressure on the press’s screw. All that remained of the apples was a solid cake of pomace at the bottom of the press; it was typically used as livestock feed.
In America’s western expansion, settlers attempted to grow apple trees in arid regions but it proved an uphill battle. As cities grew, land once allocated to apple trees gave way to development. Meanwhile, the fast fermentation process used to produce German beers was implemented in America. Large, sophisticated breweries began to produce beer in large quantities, and apple cider production was relegated to small farms.
By the 1920s, cider presses had become lighter and less expensive. Chicago’s Hartman Co. sold its Majestic double-tub cider press for $19.85 ($227 today) plus freight. Apple cider’s demise was finally sealed by emergence of the temperance movement. The anti-alcohol movement persuaded many church-going farmers to give up the habit of making and consuming apple cider. Many even chopped down the apple trees on their farms. Hard cider began enjoying a new popularity in the 1990s, although it’s nowhere close to what it once was. Still, cider endures as a key part of Americana. FC
Read more about cider presses in Antique Cider Presses: Pressed Into Service.