As the harvest season begins, The Hammer Museum would like to highlight this unique harvesting tool. Prior to mechanization, almonds were harvested by striking the trunk of the trees with a hammer like this one and collecting the falling nuts in large canvas blankets. The head of this one is made of rubber but tree knockers had heads made of a variety of soft materials including leather and cloth. This hammer is actually reconstructed from a separate handle and head both donated to the Hammer Museum by Bob and Yvonne Keathley.
The history of commercial almond growing in the United States only goes back to the mid 1800s after the California gold rush. Prior to planting in California, only the Mediterranean climates like thoes in Italy and Spain were considered suitable for growing crops like almonds and olives. However, after years of trial and error, almonds are now the largest food export of California and are still growing.
The tree knocker was phased out during the mechanization boom that happened in the United States after WWII. The need for mechanization was felt during the war due to labor shortages but the concurrent shortage of materials also made it difficult to implement. After the war, the materials were again available and major changes occurred in the growing and harvesting of almonds. The higher yields made possible by these improvements were necessary to keep up with the demand which also grew as wartime rationing ended and people were free to indulge in a much more varied diet.
For a more detailed history of almond growing in the United States, check out the Blue Diamond Growers website, and for a look at an almond tree knocker made of cloth or leather, check out this blog post by the Placer County Museus in California.