Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hyde Cannery Takes A Bow

My favorite people in the world are the journalists who write puff pieces about businesses.

No, really. Some of the greatest source of facts about particular businesses comes from such "interview local captain of industry" articles. Each of these articles throws in some facts and detailed description of the business and also adds some personal color about the business. We saw it with the matter-of-fact Sewall Brown apricot pit plant article in the San Jose News. We got to imagine Henry Hiller and his partner laughing about their pile of prune pits in Edith Daley's columns on Pacific By-Products in the July 19 and 20, 1921 issues of the San Jose Evening News. We learned about the Horatio Alger story of Larson Ladder, as described under an anonymous by-line in the August 6, 1928 San Jose News.

Finding them, however, is another thing. The newspapers on Google's News Archive are easy to search and browse; the newspapers available through (and also available through aren't as easy to browse and require subscribing for access, but give access to another large set of local papers that can turn up the key tidbits.

Being persistent also helps, and doing additional searches sometimes turns up new material that's just appeared on line. A recent, repeated search for the Hyde Cannery turned up this multi-page article in Canning Age's August 1921 issue. It takes a certain bit of perseverance to make it through the article and their almost unnatural fixation on gravity conveyors (as well as their constant theme of how "modern" the cannery is), but it's still worth a read. The photos from the article might look familiar if you've been studying the history of the Santa Clara Valley; some of the photos are part of a collection in the Bancroft Library and available online. I'd always wondered about the origin of those photos; now I suspect they were photographed and then saved because of the magazine article.

The article highlights that peaches were the key fruit packed by Hyde. Fruit was received both locally by truck and by railroad car, and outgoing product was shipped by train. Box shook arrived by train, and went directly to the second floor of the warehouse where the box making machinery was located. Hyde primarily used Berger and Carter products canning and processing equipment on the canning line, American Can Company machines for the canning, and Anderson Barngrover equipment on the dried fruit line. (So much for supporting the home-town favorite; Anderson Barngrover might have been closer with the head office in San Jose, but George Hyde still insisted on going all the way to San Francisco for the other equipment. I suspect it was the fault of those consultants/sales engineers at Mailler Searles in San Francisco who sandbagged the local guys.)

The article also focused on the syrup room as a key part of the cannery, located directly over the syrup machines. They detail the blending of the sugar and the sanitary nature of the room; other articles in Canning Age highlight how the syrup room is also important as a cost center. Sugar must have been costly, as a later column highlighted how easy it was to use too concentrated a syrup in the second-rate fruit, chasing profits away.

The article also mentioned how culled fruit (inappropriate for the regular canning line) went to the "pie foundry". Every time I read "pie foundry", I expect some strange steel mill-style cauldron of fire stamping out fruit cocktail. I can't tell if "pie foundry" was a reference to a different production line in the cannery, or if it's a reference to shipping the fruit out to a commercial pie-making bakery. There's at least one turn of the century article that uses the metaphor to describe one of Chicago's big pie factories, as well as a 1903-era "Autobiography of a Shopgirl" where the term seems to refer to an inexpensive diner. Later comments highlight that Hyde also did can cut fruit for pie filling, using a different line but the same canning and syruping machines. As the cans came out of the cookers, workers would have to sort the cans based on markings on the sides of the cans.

Also in the November issue of Canning Age: how to deal with itinerant cannery workers, which provides additional hints for detailing your scene. Because the canneries were never quite sure when they'd start running, workers would often start arriving in the area a week before canning actually started. Canneries needed to make sure that housing and food was available to keep the workers on-hand until the cannery opened. Some canneries gave out free food; in other cases, little tent cities would open up with multiple food sellers providing food for the waiting workers. The article highlights the importance of keeping the workers happy, both for the labor and to avoid antagonizing the neighbors. The "bread, coffee, and mulligan" line shows that the Grapes of Wrath wasn't just a 1930's phenomena.

And if that isn't enough details from the trade press, check out the articles on keeping workers safe, the popularity of American fruit in Scandinavia, and "when a buyer misrepresents himself". That last article might be useful if I need to detail my my figure of the Higgins-Hyde fruit buyer who thought he could buy ahead of the prune pool.

[Photo: Hyde Cannery syrup line. From Bancroft Library collection Geo. E. Hyde & Co, Canning Operations, 1915-1921.]

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