The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 69, July 1965 - April, 1966 Page: 47
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The Pecan Shellers of San Antonio
of Labor in 1936 revealed that although some families were shell-
ing pecans in their homes contrary to the city law, most of the
work was being done in contract shops which were licensed, and
the workers had health permits in accordance with city require-
The contractors were financed and controlled by the large com-
panies, and were allowed to make a specified margin of profit per
ioo pounds of pecans in the shell. If the contractors failed to
abide by company rules, the owners forced them out of business
by withholding nuts, by giving them a poor grade of nuts, or by
raising the book price to an amount which denied them any profit.
Working conditions in the contract shops were poor, natural
ventilation was inadequate, and the shops were not properly
lighted. The workers were crowded elbow to elbow on long
wooden benches without backs, and little attention was given to
sanitation. Despite those conditions, the Mexicans employed were
opposed to the re-introduction of machinery. In 1936, when an
attempt was made to install machine crackers, there was a demand
from the shellers that hand cracking be retained so as not to put
their friends out of work. A. D. Spillyard, of the Champion Ma-
chine Company, had offered cracking machines to the contractors
on credit with payments to be made at the rate of $1.oo per week.
Several contractors bought them and operated them at night.
The shellers learned of that scheme and refused to handle pecans
that had been cracked by machines. Opposition was so threaten-
ing that Spillyard was forced to obtain a police escort when he
went to install machines or to collect weekly payments.8 Conse-
quently, the plan to return to mechanization was abolished.
The pecan industry was relatively stable during the years prior
to the depression. Employers had been amassing fortunes while
the workers were earning scarcely enough to provide for their
needs. The depression years of the 1930's brought lowered prices
for pecans in the shell. The market was further reduced by com-
petition from foreign products such as cashew and Brazil nuts.
Prior to the return to machine production in 1939, three attempts
'"Women in Texas Industries," Women's Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor,
Bulletin No. z26 (Washington, 1936), 79.
"A. D. Spillyard to K. P. W., interview, November 25, 1961.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 69, July 1965 - April, 1966, periodical, 1966; Austin, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117144/m1/65/: accessed May 25, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.