The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 69, July 1965 - April, 1966 Page: 45
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The Pecan Shellers of San Antonio
large supply of cheap labor. Census reports showed that there
were 82,373 Mexicans in San Antonio in 1930.1
The pecan shellers, as a group, were comprised of from 5,000
to 2,000 Mexicans, depending upon the season and the need of
the industry. Most were citizens of San Antonio. Less than half
had come directly from Mexico, while the remainder migrated
from other parts of the state. Few of them had ever done anything
but unskilled work in such jobs as manufacturing, building and
construction, and agriculture. They were accustomed to low wages
and substandard living conditions, and thus were willing to accept
employment as pecan shellers for wages as low as four or five cents
Three factors operated to make San Antonio the focus of the
pecan shelling industry in the United States for more than fifty
years. First, the pecan tree was the most valuable native crop in
Texas. The prolific pecan groves along the Red, Trinity, Brazos,
Colorado, Nueces, and Guadalupe rivers made Texas the leading
state in trees and volume of production.2 From 1927 through
1936, the state produced an average of 22,543,000 pounds of
seedling pecans per year, which amounted to approximately 48
per cent of the total seedling crop in the United States.3 In addi-
tion to that abundant supply of pecans, the pioneer efforts of
San Antonio businessmen in the field of commercial shelling,
and the presence of the Mexican labor force combined to make
San Antonio the center of the industry, shelling over 50 per cent
of the nation's commercial pecans in the 1930's.
The industry began during the Civil War, when Gustave An-
tonio Duerler, a Swiss candy manufacturer and baker, bartered
with Indian tribes for pecans. He then hired Mexicans to crack
tile nuts with railroad spikes and to pick the meats with tow-sack
needles.4 By June, 1882, Duerler was able to produce more shelled
pecans than he could use in his business, so he decided to specu-
late by shipping fifty barrels of pecan meats to a commercial
'Shelden C. Menefee and Orin C. Cassmore, The Pecan Shellers of San Antonio
(Washington, 1940), 2.
'Texas Almanac 1961-62 (Dallas, 1961), 239-240.
'Menefee and Cassmore, Pecan Shellers of San Antonio, 6.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 69, July 1965 - April, 1966, periodical, 1966; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117144/m1/63/: accessed April 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.