Living History: Tomatoes, beans and peaches made Ogden a canning capital
Last Sunday I felt a change in the air and thought about canning. You know, the old standby canner and covey of Mason jars those glass jewels with the square shoulders, threaded screw tops and watertight, rubber rings that Philadelphia tinsmith and glassblower John Landis Mason invented in 1853.
Superior to the unthreaded flat-top bottle that required sealing wax to prevent bacteria from forming inside the jar, Mason's reusable alternatives revolutionized home canning. And helped influence the commercial canning industry, particularly in Ogden.
Ogden and surrounding areas had been long noted for their rich delta soil, fine climate and farming diversity from vegetables to livestock. But when the last spike was driven at Promontory Point in 1869, completing the transcontinental railroad, the small community developed into a bustling transportation and distribution center for both agricultural and industrial expansion.
Ogden, tagged "Junction City" or "The Minneapolis of the West," was a major railroad hub for the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads and subsequent tie-ins with other railway systems.
In 1886, Alexander C. McKinney and Robert Lundy opened the Colorado-Utah Canning Co. in a former pickle plant on 29th Street property owned by merchant entrepreneur Fred K. Kiesel, who became the city's first non-Mormon mayor.
During the cannery's first and only season, workers produced and packed 1,800 cases of tomatoes. The men, dissolving their partnership, went on to open different canneries.
McKinney opened Ogden Cannery near the Union Pacific tracks and sold his shares of another enterprise, Salt Lake Valley Canning Co., to William W. Craig. Both men became major figures in Utah's canning industry. For years, they produced and shipped canned fruits and vegetables, including pumpkins, string beans, ketchup, berries and peaches.
Lundy established Utah Canning Co. in 1889. Working with Isaac N. Pierce, they introduced a new product called Pierce's Pork and Bean. (In the 1933 Depression days, the innovative meal-in-a-can sold for 5 cents each.)
In 1897, Ogden builder Thomas Dee and the industrialist David Eccles reorganized Lundy's company, implementing modern processing methods and developing a year-round big business.
Most canneries began as small, independent operations. Production was done by hand. Women workers were in great demand. Loosening tomato skins with hot steam jets and cold sprays, women easily peeled 16 bushels a day. Processing tomatoes was a top priority, while "Those Good Peas" came from Morgan Canning.
By 1910, progressive canneries processed 1,000 cases per day. In 1914, Utah was recognized as fifth in the nation among the canning industry. In 1927, the state supported 36 canneries in Weber, Davis and Cache counties. Eighteen were in Ogden.
Automatic production lines, fillers and soldering machines replaced the repetitious handwork, speeded the process and increased canning capacity. Sanitary cans open top cans that could be sealed without using solder or acid methods replaced older versions.
But from the outset, local farmers had to be convinced that selling their produce to canneries was profitable. Consumers had to learn that preserving food in cans rather than in bottles (or jars) was safe and healthy, and that sterilization by heat was an effective way to destroy germs.
In the 1927 Utah Payroll Builder, Ogden Chamber of Commerce member Jesse S. Richards noted all Utah canning factories were "under the Inspection Service of the National Canners' Association."
Daily reviews determined "conditions and quality of raw material, proper handling, packing and processing as well as the sanitary surroundings, conditions and operation of the canneries."
Passing muster garnered an association seal of "purity, cleanliness, wholesomeness and quality."
When American Can Co. and Keichefer Box Co. opened manufacturing branches in Ogden, they fabricated thousands of cans and packing cartons. They also saved the time and expense of having them shipped in from the East.
In 1926, the Builder cited Utah's canning industry's annual total pack was more than 3 million cases valued over $10 million. The future looked bright until fresh frozen food and Birdseye came calling.
Eileen Hallet Stone, an oral historian, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional sources: Don Strack's "Utah's Canning Industry" in utahrails.net.