There’s more to the Tree Top story than we knew. Looking back, it is thanks to the hard work, determination and curiosity of one Bill Charbonneau and Carl Weisbrod leading the way to make some of the first shelf stable apple juice that set Tree Top on the path it leads today. Our tale is one of innovation, expertise and discriminating taste which has guided us for decades and will continue to motivate us as we move into the future.
In the early history of apple juice making, a company was owned by C.C. Ross called Pomona Products who specialized making apple juice in the 1930s in Selah, WA under the “New West” label until Bill Charbonneau purchased the company in 1944. Charbonneau changed the company name two years later to Charbonneau Packing and the following year changed the label/brand to Tree Top. For that reason and the fact that he remained on as President after a group of growers formed a cooperative and bought the company from him, Charbonneau is considered our founder.
Bill Charbonneau was a stickler for quality and producing great tasting apple juice and tasted every batch personally. There are various accounts of him making employees dump large holding tanks that didn’t meet his discriminating taste. He was adamant the company was going to be different from other juice companies who were making what he referred to as “belly wash”.
The history shared above is about as much as was known until brothers Brian and Loren Weisbrod came across their grandmother’s old scrap book while looking through some boxes of family things about to be discarded. In the scrapbook were newspaper clippings, photos, letters and postcards all neatly dated and preserved.
Brian and Loren’s grandmother Eva Stutsman wed a German Professor Carl Weisbrod – a chemist working in the apple industry. They wed in Wenatchee, WA in June of 1931 and the newspaper reported, along with many other details of the wedding and reception, “Apple cider which had been made last September and kept sweet by a secret process of Mr. Weisbrod was served to the guests.” It’s believed this may be the first time a process to create a shelf stable juice was introduced.
Another newspaper article in the scrapbook described Professor Weisbrod as having majored in horticulture. A postcard in the book pictures a German school, Ober-Erlenbach, which is believed to be the place from which he graduated. That’s relevant because the Germans created an “Experimental Plant for Unprocessed Fruit Recovery,” where students from Ober-Erlenbach did their apprenticeships, which would have provided Professor Weisbrod the opportunity to gain a deep knowledge of fruit processing.
Thanks to their grandmother’s meticulous record keeping and memorabilia, Brian and Loren have pieced together their grandfather’s career which appears to have changed the way apple juice was made in America with Pomona Products, later known as Tree Top, leading the way.
One of the news articles from 1936 reports that Carl Weisbrod introduced “a process by which fresh apple juice can be bottled so as to retain color and taste for an indefinite period, normal fermentation taking place when the liquid is exposed to air. Such a product could be shipped to any client by any means of transportation available and its prospective market would include practically the entire world.”
According to records, Professor Weisbrod had been working as the manager of Manson-Chelan Cold Storage before taking a position as production manager at a juice plant in Wenatchee. A newspaper article from 1937 reports him working as the Selah Production Manager at Pomona Products.
It was significant news for the Yakima Valley and the United States when Professor Weisbrod traveled to Switzerland to secure exclusive process rights for Pomona Products from Dr. Edwin Schoop who had just been granted an American patent on his juice process.
After the patented process was secured by Weisbrod for Pomona Products, new equipment was devised and ordered from Germany and Switzerland. The new process and equipment allowed the juice plant to produce a half-million gallons a year versus 60,000 gallons and it was to handle 2,400 bottles per hour. (Today, our Selah Plant can run more than 9,000 64-ounce bottles per hour.) The new apple juice system was brought to the west where the apples were plentiful and hence the juice was labeled “New West.” The brand grew in popularity nationally so quickly the company began bottling in three different sizes and could not keep pace with demand. According to a 1939 news article, “Yakima apple juice is winning such popularity that orders are coming for it from all parts of the world.” The juice was heralded as “The Aristocrat of Fruit Juices.”
So as we reflect back on our history we have another chapter of our story describing how our company came to be the leader in shelf-stable premium apple juice. Our heritage of innovation, expertise and discriminating taste are deeply rooted and that legacy is unique and something we continue to stand on.
Pictured below left is Bill Charbonneau, a stickler for great tasting apple juice unlike the “belly wash” of competitors. Carl Weisbrod is pictured to the right.