Dr. Philip Phillips (1874-1959)
Dr. Phillip’s Villages
“Flash” Pasteurization Process
Dr. Philip Phillips is a legendary figure in Central Florida, not only because of his work with citrus, but also because of his fine work as a human being assisting others. Dr. Phillips’s accomplishments, both within the realm of citrus and also in the realm of the community, leave little doubt as to the tremendous character, ingenuity, and determination of this pioneer.
On January 17, 1874, Philip Phillips was born to French supply merchant Henri Phillipe and his wife, Isabelle, in Memphis, Tennessee. Earning a medical degree from Columbia University, Phillips migrated to Florida in 1894, intending to enter the cattle business. With a $5,000 endownment from his father, Phillips used the money to purchase a grove in Satsuma, but within a year his new holdings were almost entirely wiped out in a devastating freeze.
Phillips returned briefly to Tennessee but was not dissuaded from his Florida enterprises. Taking short trips to Florida he continued to purchase small amounts of grove land. After the 1895 freeze, Phillips had set his eyes on Cuba, but he was discouraged by an unsettled political situation and decided to return to Florida in 1897, eventually settling in Osceola County where had acquired both grove land and grazing land for cattle. During this period, he, his wife Della, and their two sons acquired more groves near Sand Lake in Orlando. Phillips moved there permanently, determining to commit his attention fully to citrus.
The young man’s persistence paid off, as he soon began earning a fortune off of his rapidly growing citrus holdings. By 1920, he had acquired massive amounts of land near his original Sand Lake property. At their peak, his groves stretched over 18 square miles of Orange County. Over the years, Dr. Phillips installed numerous facilities on his property, giving rise to what was essentially a small village called “Dr. Phillips.” These facilities included housing units that had been built for Bahamian workers that Phillips had recruited to work in his groves. Although most citrus workers were seasonal, working for roughly half of the year, Phillips ensured that the employees he brought in would have work year-round. A post office and even an air strip also became part of the Dr. Phillips village. This property was merely the centerpiece of an empire which encompassed 5,000 acres of land in nine different counties, as well as two large packinghouses. This assembly made Phillips the largest citrus grower in the world, growing and selling over 100 million oranges a year.
One of the main reasons for “The Doc’s” success was that he brought a spirit of innovation to his citrus facilities, and he was willing to try things that had not been done before. Dr. Phillips was the first to sell oranges by the pound, which he promoted in the late 1920s by using scales in demonstrations around the state to show that 10 pounds of oranges produced two quarts of juice. From 1929 to 1931, Phillips directed a project designed to improve the taste of orange juice in a can. A “flash” pasteurization process was developed which greatly enhance the taste of single-strength orange juice, and he undertook a massive marketing campaign to promote the new juice. He placed the tagline “Drink Dr. Phillip’s orange juice because the Doc says it’s good for you” on the labels of all of his juice products, leading the American Medical Association to conduct a study which led to their official endorsement being placed in the labels as well. The success of his orange juice helped to pave the way for the success of concentrate in the 1950s by increasing consumer awareness and confidence in orange juice products.
Dr. Phillips also used the airstrip on his property to conduct the first aerial spraying of citrus. He also achieved a great deal of success with promotional films utilizing what was then the stunning new Technicolor. His ideas were not always centered around marketing and innovations; during the midst of a severe drought in 1939, Phillips brought a rainmaker from Mississippi to his property and the desired results were achieved.
Dr. Phillips remained a very charitable man throughout his lifetime. He always made sure his workforce was taken care of in every way, even once delivering turkeys to families on Christmas day. He established a hospital in the 1950s in order to provide health care to working blacks, who had difficulty obtaining it otherwise. His corporation gave millions to charities and social services every year, and in 1953 he created The Dr. P. Phillips Association in order to support charitable needs throughout the community.
In 1954, Dr. Phillips sold his citrus holdings to Granada Groves and Minute Maid. This transaction is widely believed to be the largest in the history of citrus. Dr. Phillips passed away five years later, at the age of 85. His business passed on to his son Howard, who was the sole stockholder in the Phillips corporations because Walter, who carved out a successful career as a citrus consultant, had become estranged from the family. Upon Howard’s death in 1979, the remains of the Phillips holdings were left to be used in charitable ways.
The accomplishments of Dr. Philip Phillips were recognized in 1986, when he was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame.