I will be posting articles that have been of significance in understanding the avocado. When appropriate I intend to post awards and obituaries which recognize the authors of these articles who contributed to the establishment and development of the California avocado industry.
No other individual deserves to be called “The father of the California Avocado Industry” than Dr. J. Eliot Coit.
California Avocado Society 1976 Yearbook 60: 11-13
DR. J. ELIOT COIT (1880-1976)
With the passing of Dr. J. Eliot Coit on June 4, 1976 at the age of 96, California lost one
of its outstanding horticultural leaders and pioneers of more than ten decades. Born in
San Antonio, Texas March 9, 1880, Dr. Coit came from a family associated with
American history. John Eliot, a forebear, translated the Bible into the Indian language in
Pilgrim days. The Coit family was involved in Pilgrim history. His grandfather was a
Presbyterian minister, a faith followed by Dr. Coit throughout the years, and in which he
served as an elder in the church.
He began his subtropical career early. Completing his undergraduate training at the
North Carolina College of Agriculture, he went on to Cornell for graduate training. Here
he was fortunate to have been a student of Liberty Hyde Bailey, one of the great
national leaders in agricultural and horticultural education—author, teacher, and
educator, whose students have left their mark in this country and many countries
On the completion of his graduate work at Cornell in 1907, Dr. Coit accepted the
position of horticulturist at the Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station and began work
in a field that was to keep him busy for the next seven decades—the field of citrus fruits,
dates, figs and olives, and, in California, the avocado and the lesser subtropical fruits.
His life divides itself into two periods—academic, consulting and managerial—but
always the teacher, whether with grower, professor, former student, or foreign visitor.
As a teacher, he was a thoroughgoing instructor and an older companion of his students
in the lecture room, laboratory, and in the field. Soon after Dean Hunt became Dean of
Agriculture at Berkeley in 1912, he brought Dr. Coit from the Citrus Experiment Station,
which, in 1911, Dr. Coit had helped develop at Riverside, California, to head the new
Department of Citriculture and Subtropical Horticulture at Berkeley. The Department
grew rapidly and drew students from abroad, especially Latin America, India, and the
Mediterranean countries. His personal interest, understanding, enthusiasm and
sympathy, (he had worked his way through college) followed his students throughout
their careers; they were always “his boys.” They fill important positions at home and
abroad as producers, marketing specialists, teachers, researchers and government
During World War I many of the staff of the College of Agriculture went into the statewide
University program of placing Farm Advisors in each county to aid food production,
processing and distribution. Dr. Coit was assigned to Los Angeles County, the most
important agricultural county in the United States at that time, and took Robert W.
Hodgson, one of his outstanding students with him as an assistant.
In 1920 Dr. Coit returned to the Department in Berkeley, and after a year, left the
University to enter the commercial field as a consultant and manager. There were those
in academic circles who doubted the ability of one so long in academic halls to adjust
successfully in the hurly-burly business world. In this second career, he was to become
one of the most reliable, trusted, and conscientious advisers on production and
marketing problems. He had already become well known through his teaching,
extension work, and his publications. His book, “Citrus Fruits,” published in 1915, was
the first comprehensive manual of its kind published.
Dr. Coit contributed to world-wide horticulture through his many articles in “Bailey’s
Cyclopedia of Horticulture” and in bulletins, lectures and special visitations to many
lands. He was especially active in Southern California horticultural circles. He was a
fellow in the American Association for Advancement of Science, a member of Sigma Xi,
the national research honorary society, Alpha Zeta, the national agricultural honorary
fraternity, and the Gamma Alpha fraternity.
He was already familiar with the emerging avocado industry as it began with the
relatively few backyard trees at the end of the first decade and up to World War I. A
story often told by Dr. Coit—”About 1908 I took an avocado fruit from a tree in Orange
County to Dean Wickson, University of California College of Agriculture. The Dean
asked ‘what is it?’ ‘An avocado’ was the reply. The Dean continued, ‘It looks nice
enough but it will never go over commercially because it doesn’t have any sugar. All fruit
must have sugar.'” Coit mentioned later, “I did not tell Dean Wickson at the time, but
technically speaking there are three or four sugars in avocados. You just can’t taste
He was an early participant in the formation of the California Avocado Association
(1914), serving on the first Board of Directors. This was the first effort to draw the
scattered growers together to become acquainted, and to begin efforts to solve the then
mounting problems—tree propagation, rootstocks, pruning, frost protection, soil and
irrigation, and food value of the relatively new fruit in California.
By the conclusion of the war there were enough plantings coming into bearing to flood
the local markets with many different varieties varying in quality from poor to choice. It
was obvious that steps had to be taken for an orderly marketing program. Dr. Coit took
a leading part in launching a cooperative program and served on its Board of Directors
for its first 20 years. He was instrumental in securing George Hodgkins from the Sunkist
citrus marketing organization to be the first manager. The organization developed
steadily, becoming the Calavo Growers as we know it today. Many of its members had
been through the problems of marketing citrus fruits, which saved the fledgling avocado
industry from repeating those experiences.
At the very start the young avocado association began publishing an annual yearbook.
This publication became the “bible” of the new industry. Dr. Coit was made an honorary
member of the California Avocado Association in 1918, and in 1956 was given its first
Award of Honor. The society again honored him in 1963 by the title “Director Emeritus.”
Dr. Coit was the editor of the Yearbook from 1925 to 1940, not a new experience for
him. In his undergraduate days in North Carolina he had edited the college agricultural
journal. As a graduate student at Cornell, under Liberty Hyde Bailey he edited the
“Cornell Countryman.” As a teacher he insisted on clarity of expression and
conciseness, oral or written. He became popular as a public lecturer and writer. His
classroom had lost its walls, and his students included all those growing citrus and
subtropicals, whether a backyard tree, or orchard plantings of hundreds of trees. His
kindly and understanding criticism and suggestions, his warm encouragement and
enthusiasm will long be remembered. His footprints up and down orchard and nursery
rows will long remain, and his satisfying pipe and accompanying observations will be
missed in board meetings and committee discussions. His students will never forget the
hand on the shoulder, his pride in them, and his commendation. We, who have been his
students and associates are most fortunate.