Friday, January 13, 2012

"Experts Find Valuable Oils in 'Cot Pits"

For those of you planning to model Sewall Brown's apricot pit plant, you've got another source of photos and background. Check out the July 23, 1928 issue of the San Jose News for more details about what those apricot pits were used for, and for more history of the plant. There's also a nice picture from the railroad side of the plant, and words from Mr. Brown himself.

Fun details: apricot pits turned out to contain bitter almond oil, used in Europe for cooking, perfume, and other products. The apricot kernels themselves were also useful for salads and baking. In the early days, the pits were shipped to Europe for processing. However, World War I stopped the sale of the pits, so Sunsweet started to do the processing themselves. The oils produced must have been valuable; the pits themselves would be bought for $55 per ton. Most of that pit-crushing business in the U.S. was right there on Winchester Blvd., where Sewall Brown and Co. processed a large chunk of California's 10,000 tons of apricot pits.

We'd already noted that the plant started off as Gem City Packing, then became a Sunsweet plant, but the article explains why it switched ownership. Sewall Brown got into the business when the Sunsweet co-op decided not to continue with the side business, so Sewall and his partner Harold Scott (the plant chemist) took over the business. Scott died within a few months, but Brown ran it until his death.

And if all these stories of Sewall Brown encourages you to break into the pit-cracking business, note that peach pits aren't at all profitable; the kernels are too small and it's too much work to get them out. Stick with apricots.

The News bills the article as one of a series of special articles on Valley businesses, so poke around on other Mondays in 1928 for more stories of Valley entrepreneurship back in the fruit salad days. The Faultless Bakery article was a bit dry, but the World's Largest Orchard Ladder Factory deserves its large billing. The Monday, August 20 paper doesn't appear to have a "local business of the day", but there is an article on the death of Wayne, California, a small station between San Jose and Milpitas which the SP no longer wishes to serve. "The crops shipped from there are... highly seasonal, and consist mostly of peppers, walnuts, and nursery products."

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