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Interpreting the Evidence

A Group of Hop Pickers Near Cooperstown, c. 1900

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load A Group of Hop Pickers Near Cooperstown, c. 1900 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Historical Context
Hops are very susceptible to blight, including molds, fungi, insects, and grubs. In order to maximize growing conditions, the hops were tied to poles that were twenty to thirty feet tall. The vines were secured to the pole using cloth or burlap strips. This kept mold and fungi in the soil from spreading and destroying the vines. Farmers would also use a tool called a grubber. A grubber not only helped reposition the hop poles but also killed grubs that matured in the soil during the summer.

Hops were usually harvested in late August by groups of local farmers or by "city pickers." These were people who came from the cities to the farms as workers. The pickers were paid by the number of baskets they filled. Despite the tediousness of removing small twigs and leaves from the hop fruit, hops harvesting was seen as a social event.

At the turn of the twentieth century, hops harvesting remained strong in New York State. In 1903, the state was still considered the main producer of hops in the nation. However, as early as 1857, hops had been grown in California by a Vermont native who brought hops seeds on his transcontinental journey. Other western states also began to grow hops, such as Wisconsin in the 1860s, Washington in 1866, and Oregon in the 1880s. From 1903 to 1914, the United States exported ten to twenty million pounds of hops mainly to England and Canada.

Population growth, city expansions, and socio-economic factors eventually led to the demise of the New York hops industry. The prohibition of alcohol in 1914 severely hurt the hops industry. The Great Depression also hurt American farmers. From the 1930s to the 1950s, hops production continued to decline in New York. Today, hops are grown mostly for local or personal consumption. The main species grown is Humulus lupus, which is not native to America. Even so, the United States is second only to Germany in hops production, and Washington State, not New York, is the country's biggest producer of hops.

Compelling Question
How does geography impact local economies?

Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and discuss the amount of labor involved in harvesting this crop.

Historical Challenges
Map the spread of wild hops from Mesopotamia to New York to Washington State. Make an illustrated timeline of events. Include details on what the people from each civilization would dress like and the purposes for which they used the hops. Include what modes of transportation you think helped spread the hops. What records give us evidence that hops were gathered as early as the 4th century B.C.?

Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: During the hops harvest, a man could fill 5 bushels a day, a young boy 2 bushels, a woman 4 bushels, and a young girl 1 bushel. How many days would it take this family to harvest a crop of 200 bushels?

Science: Study the effects of mold on plants.

English Language Arts: Pretend you are a city picker from New York City who has traveled to Ostego County to harvest the hops. Write a letter home describing the event.