Citra Sipper: A Taste of Old Florida
When tourists began flocking to the Sunshine State in the 1950s and 1960s they were greeted with a very different Florida. I-75 didn’t exist, Disney World didn’t open until 1971, and citrus reigned supreme throughout the middle of the state. Citrus groves set up shop with roadside stands on many busy thoroughfares throughout the state primarily on 301 and 41. These stands were filled to the brim with fresh grove-picked citrus fruits and many themed souvenirs. One could sample “world famous” orange juice, pick up a bushel or two of oranges, and a can of Florida sunshine to send back to friends and family in the snowy north.
One of these memorable souvenirs also promoted the sale of oranges. A small device that could be inserted into an orange like a straw and the juice sucked right out. The Citra Sipper, originally called the Citra Sucker, was invented by Charles Schiller in the early 1900s.
In his patent application in 1931, Schiller wrote “My invention has for its object the easy and quick removal of the eatable parts of citrus fruits encased within the rind by sucking, making unnecessary the removal of the rind or peel, or the exposure of the rag or seeds, eliminating the ‘messy’ or disagreeable experience had when otherwise eaten. By making what is termed a ‘hand-fruit’ of this kind of fruit I expect to increase the consumption of same and render a service ultimately of great benefit to the industry of growing citrus fruits.” The sipper was originally made out of wax, and new materials continued to be tested. Schiller debuted the Citra Sipper at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933-34.
The invention was moderately successful and could be found at fruit stands and gift shops around Florida.
In the 1940s, Schiller’s son, Charles P. Schiller, took the company to the next level. By then the sipper was being made out of porcelain, which was very expensive. Charles P. borrowed $1500, improved the sippers design, and developed a mold to make the sipper out of plastic. Charles P. also attempted to find new ways to market the business. He contacted the Florida Citrus Commission (FCC) about purchasing his product to be used in marketing fresh citrus. He proposed that a free sipper could be included with every bag of citrus sold. However, the FCC turned him down citing that they did not have the budget for such a large scale promotion. Charles P. also used his connections as an educator to have the Citra Sipper used in the school lunch programs, and many school children went home with one of these novel devices. As he grew the company, Charles P. turned to other citrus inventions to expand the company’s product offerings such as a peeler knife, a fruit spoon, a corer, and an orange juice container in the shape of an orange with a straw. His slogan was “Florida’s useful souvenirs, invented in Florida, made in Florida, sold in Florida to help Florida product.”
In 1954, Nan Norman, Charles Schiller’s granddaughter, and her husband Dan joined in the family business. They reorganized as Citra Products of Florida to market and deliver the products. They also expanded their product base to about 200 items which were all connected the citrus industry and designed to promote the industry in Florida. One of the new items that they began to sell was Florida Citrus Perfume in a small bottle that looked like an orange. They continued to market their products to fruit stands, gift shops and variety stores throughout Florida.
Today, Citra Products of Florida is owned by McClain’s Old Florida Gourmet and they continue to manufacture many of these citrus products. Many Florida kids still remember getting a Citra Sipper/O.J. Squeater at school or for fun. McClain’s Old Florida Gourmet has partnered with the Manatee County Agricultural Museum to lend the original Citra Sipper which went to the Chicago World’s Fair and several other original items as part of the exhibit “Citrus Kitsch: Memories of Old Florida.” Come see this fascinating part of Florida's citrus history as well as many other objects and postcards through February 18, 2017.