The tradition of the First Bale contest dates back to the 1800’s when the grower of the first bale would be required to transport the cotton to Houston for certification. In 1953, the Harlingen Cotton Committee received sanction from the Houston Stock Exchange to hold the contest in Harlingen each year.
According to records compiled by Bill Mayes of the Valley Morning Star, the date of the first bale of cotton grown in the United States since 1896 is on record at the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce.
Records show that the earliest bale grown since 1896 was May 21, 1921 by Ernest Matz of San Benito. The latest arrival of the first bale was in 1903 when it arrived on August 7th.
For many years prior to 1953, the first bale was auctioned by the Houston Cotton Exchange. In the Spring of 1953 at a meeting at Little Creek Motel was attended by Karl Gibbon, President of the Chamber of Commerce; Vernon Murphy, Chairman of the Cotton Committee; John McKelvy; J. Scott Norman; and J.E. Bell, Manager of the Chamber of Commerce and a program was outlined for Harlingen to purchase the first bale of cotton. The Harlingen Cotton Committee would offer a $2500 bonus plus the entire proceeds of the auction of the first bale to the grower. Sanction was received from the Houston Cotton exchange for Harlingen to auction the first bale without their competition. Harlingen has continued to auction the first bale of cotton grown in the United States.