The olive oil business might seem at times tumultuous and ever-changing — and it is, with energetic up-and-coming producers, industry infighting over market share and the uproar over less-than-standard products.

But olive oil has been around a very long time, of course, and many of the things we see happening these days in the category turn out to be not so new at all.

Looking back through the archives of the New York Times, the Associated Press and other sources, what might seem like current trends are just the latest continuations of stories that began long ago.

We just thought we’d share some of the more interesting snippets we came across flipping through the last 100 years, or so, of olive oil’s ancient history.

(Some sources require logins to view the original article.)


August 21, 1891

California Producers Band Together

“The convention of olive oil producers, recently assembled (in San Francisco) took a decided stand for pure, home-made olive oil. The convention has now established the very conditions of success — concerted action securing a perfect guarantee of the purity of olive oil produced in San Francisco.”

Santa Cruz Daily Sentinel


February 17, 1912

Cal. Growers Denounce Proposed Tariff Reduction

“A proposal to reduce the tariff on olive oil threatens the annihilation of the olive oil industry in California. ‘Don’t permit this infant industry to be strangled as it has never had adequate protection.’ The Olive Growers’ Association of Los Angeles said. ‘If the tariff is reduced, it will compel us to discontinue raising olives.’ “

NY Times


April 14, 1914

Italy Ships More than it Makes

“The consul says it would seem that more oil is being sent to the United States as Lucca or Tuscan olive oil than the district produces for export.”

NY Times


November 25, 1918

Unscrupulous Dealers

“Very little olive oil is now being imported and the domestic olive oil is not sufficient to supply the demand. The abnormally high price of genuine olive oil has tempted unscrupulous dealers to mix cheaper vegetable oils with a little genuine olive oil and to sell the mixture labeled as olive oil.”

NY Times


August 27, 1919

*Not* Made in Italy

“Shipments of olive oil labeled as having been produced in Italy, but which, in fact, was produced in Spain, have been seized in San Francisco.”

USDA Weekly Newsletter


April 23, 1922

Better than Bootlegging

“There is more profit in adulterating olive oil than bootlegging, said the health commissioner. 17 percent of the samples taken last year were adulterated.”

NY Times


July 15, 1930

40 Percent of California Olive Oils are Substandard

In 1930, the Maryland-based olive oil importer Pompeian Corporation carried out its own study that revealed, “So-called California virgin olive oils” were not from the first pressing. “Over 40 percent of the so-called pure, un-adulterated virgin olive oils are falsely labeled — containing from 25 to 100 percent refined oil,” the company said. Guess you could call the 2011 Davis report, 81 years later, delayed payback.

Industrial and Engineering Chemistry


whats-new-is-old-again-the-deep-roots-of-todays-olive-oil-trends

Mulberry Street, New York 1905

July 22, 1930

Extra Virgin Motor Oil

“Manuel Pinol, a member of the Seville municipal council, motored today from that city to Madrid using olive oil as the only lubricant of his car. The experimenter said he consumed one liter of the oil with excellent results. Olive producers have asked the government to support experiments which they hope will result in extensive use of olive oil for lubrication as a measure toward solving the problem of olive over-production.”

NY Times


June 2, 1934

Olive Oil Chemists Form Group

Organization of an international committee of olive oil chemists, which will seek to develop standard methods for the analysis of olive oil was announced here yesterday by W.H. Dickhart, chairman. Included are chemists connected with the olive oil industry in Spain, France and Italy. The committee will try to develop new methods for determining the purity of olive oil.”

NY Times


June 3, 1936

No Soap for You

“The Senate Today adopted an amendment to eliminate the proposed tax on olive oil. Senator Moore said the tax would destroy soap manufacturing operations that use olive oil.”

NY Times


August 2, 1937

Olive Oil Group Revived

“Rising world prices, due to the civil war in Spain, have added a new incentive to the adulteration of olive oil by unscrupulous importers and have prompted revival of the Olive Oil Association.”

Reading (PA) Times


February 4, 1941

Italian Production Below Average

“Italy’s olive oil crop is below average this critical year. World production is estimated at 7.5 million quintals (827,000 tons).”

NY Times


May 25, 1941

California Rising

“California has been producing olive oil for twenty years but never better quality or more quantity than this year. The increased demand has brought a rise in prices for domestic oils too and many growers who formerly packed their choicest Mission and Manzanilla olives are now using them to manufacture oil. This year, 900,000 gallons of olive oil were pressed out in California.”

NY Times


May 13, 1942

Nazi Lubricant

“German engines of war are lubricated with olive oil, indicating that the Nazis are running low on vital raw materials, Eugene Varga, the Soviet’s foremost economist, said in today’s edition of the Communist party newspaper Pravda.”

The Daily Pantagraph


May 23, 1943

Olive Oil from Peanuts

“Olive Oil from peanuts has been produced successfully at the Southern regional research laboratory of the USDA. Both are wartime substitutes, but will probably carry over into peace for uses where they are either superior or cheaper.”

NY Times


January 27, 1956

Brooklyn Man Fined $4,000 for ‘Misbranding’

“Joseph Profaci, a Brooklyn olive oil distributor, was fined $4,000 yesterday in federal Court, Brooklyn, for misbranding his product. Two companies that Profaci formerly headed, the Mamma Mia Importing Company, Inc., and the Santuzzo Oil Company, Inc., also were fined a total of $4,000.”

NY Times


July 18, 1959

Tunisia the World’s Largest Olive Oil Exporter

“Tunisia has emerged during the last three years as the world’s largest exporter of olive oil, and the 1959 season produced a harvest that set a new peak at 135,000 tons.”

NY Times


April 16, 1989

Light Olive Oil: Product of New Jersey

“Light olive oil was invented by the Bertolli company in this office in Secaucus, N.J.,” said William C. Monroe, president of Bertolli USA. “It’s an American invention.”

NY Times


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