1. An English measure of capacity, containing 63 wine gallons, or about 52-1/2 imperial gallons; a half-pipe. The old ale hogshead contained 54 ale gallons, or nearly 55 imperial gallons. 2. A large cask, of indefinite contents, but usually containing from 100 to 140 gallons. — Webster, 1882
Father came back that night with two big hogsheads of cider. He rolled them down cellar. There was plenty of cider to last till next apple harvest. – Farmer Boy, Chapter 20, “Late Harvest”
As the child’s textbook table shows at left, hogshead was the name of a type of container and didn’t always represent a barrel of a particular volume. A hogshead might have contained anywhere from 40 to 140 gallons of liquid, and would have been sized appropriately. – Horatio Nelson Robinson, Robinson’s Progressive Table Book for Young Children (New York: Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co., 1880), 77.
However, a hogshead came to be known as a barrel that was 48 inches tall and 30 inches across the head at either end. The hogshead would have been a familiar item to Almanzo Wilder, who would have known that it held twice as much as a standard barrel. In the existing manuscript for Farmer Boy, the cider is stored in two barrels, not hogsheads.
It has been suggested that, as skins and hides formerly did duty as bottles and vessels for liquids, that the hogshead or hogshide was originally a barrel of the same capacity as a liquid-containing vessel made from the skin or hide of a hog. Others believe it may have been an oxhide from which the word was derived, as the Dutch and Scandinavians called a cask of similar size an oxhead.
Cider hogshead. According to William Rhind’s 1857 A History of the Vegetable Kingdom (London: Blackie and Son), it took 24-30 bushels of apples to make one 63-gallon hogshead of cider. A good orchard of one acre might produce about 600 bushels of apples in a single season.
An interesting tale. In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Washington Irving (of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame), the following story of Mr. Irving’s was re-told:
…Irving …pointed out… with a significant twinkle of the eye… some orchards, with which he had early acquaintance; and specially, too, upon some hill-top, a farmery, famous for its cider-mill and the good cider made there; he, with the rest, tasting it over and over in the old slow way with straws, but provoked once on a time to a fuller test, by turning the hogshead, so they might sip from the open bung; and then (whether out of mischief or mishandling) the big barrel got the better of them, and set off upon a lazy roll down the hill–going faster and faster–they, more and more frightened, and scudding away slant-wise over the fences–the yelling farmer appearing suddenly at the top of the slope, but too broad in the beam for any sharp race, and the hogshead between them plunging, and bounding, and giving out ghostly, guttural explosions of sound, and cider, at every turn. – Donald Mitchell, Washington Irving: Commemoration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of His Birth (New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1884), 40.
hogshead (FB 20), see also barrel