John Maag was born in Westphalia, Germany, on October 31, 1851. His father died when he was two, leaving his mother to raise him and his older brother Frank. The family emigrated to the United States in 1865, at the end of the U.S. Civil War. They settled first in Michigan and then moved to a homestead in Columbus, Nebraska in 1871. His mother was the first white woman settler in Union Township, Platte County, Nebraska.
When he came of age, John homesteaded his own 160 acre parcel in Nebraska. In 1884 he married Catherine Steffes. They lived on the Nebraska homestead for the next seven years, during which time they had six children, two of whom died during that period.
In 1889, John toured the Pacific Coast and was impressed enough to return in 1891, when he visited Los Angeles and Orange counties. Apparently the area suited him admirably, because he relocated his family to southern California in the fall of 1891.
After purchasing a horse and buggy in Los Angeles, the family toured areas in Orange County looking for the ideal location for a farm. After five months of searching, he bought 31 acres of farmland in what is now Santa Ana and became orange grower. Once settled, the family added six more children to their burgeoning household.
Soon after the Maags became established, an overabundance of oranges created such a strong buyer’s market that the local farmers could not earn enough to make a profit. Maag organized the orange growers between Santa Ana and Redlands into the Santiago Orange Growers Association. As a group, they established fair prices for the oranges. This association under Maag’s directorship and that of others was the foundation of what eventually became the well-known Sunkist Growers.
Maag also helped in the creation of the Central Lemon Growers Association, the Olive Heights Orange Growers Association, the Richland Walnut Growers Association, and the Orange County Fumigating Association. These groups also helped their members control their destinies by establishing fair market prices.
John was a dedicated member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Santa Ana and a staunch family man. Altogether the family had ten sons (two of whom died before leaving Nebraska) and two daughters. The twelve-room house that now stands on the Heritage Museum of Orange County grounds was custom-built to accommodate this large family.
Maag is remembered by his granddaughter, Lucinda Maag Considine, as a German authoritarian, firm but fair. The children had duties to perform: the girls cooked and cleaned with their mother and the boys worked the ranches with their father. When they came of age, each girl received a piano and each boy received a parcel of land and a team of horses.
Over time, Maag bought more ranches and branched into banking as well. He helped organize the Citizens Commercial and Savings Bank of Santa Ana, now known as the California National Bank. His successful business ventures made him a prosperous man.