Monday, March 4, 2013

How Much Is That Cannery II: Hyde Cannery

The two large canneries in Campbell, the Ainsley Cannery north of Campbell Avenue, and the Hyde Cannery south of Campbell Avenue, were awfully similar - both well thought of in the community and both significant producers. But each had it's own story.

Ainsley had started his cannery himself in the 1890's as part of early fruit canning experimentation. In 1898, Ainsley's cannery handled 400 tons of apricots and 450 tons of peaches. With family in Britain handling the sale, he had an immediate market for the high quality fruit, and the Ainsley Cannery put Campbell on the map. As we heard last time, Ainsley sold the cannery in 1933, but the business continued as Drew Canning and then as Hunt's well into the 1960's, ending only as the buildings were torn down and water tower toppled over around 1964. That's seventy years of canning and an immense amount of fruit, all being produced in Campbell.

George E. Hyde Builds a Cannery The Hyde Cannery came much later. George E. Hyde, the owner, was a California kid, born to Massachusetts immigrants in 1855. He turns up first in the 1880 census and in contemporary San Francisco city directories just married to Alice with a one month old son, and was working as a machinist in San Francisco at Pacific Rolling Mills. "Campbell: the Orchard City" mentions a move to Benicia in 1882, and then retreating to the wilds of Saratoga in 1886, ending up with his brother Warren on land near Prospect and Saratoga Roads. By 1907, he's managing the Rosenberg Brothers packing house on Ryland St. in San Jose, just north of the San Jose railroad yards.

But George, in his late 50's, must have wanted a try at running a place with his name on the side of the building, and in 1909, he got his chance. The Campbell Fruit Grower's Union, a co-operative, had operated a large plant in Campbell since 1892, but had started encountering problems with the growers. Orchardists were perfectly willing to sell their fruit to the co-op when prices were low, but when prices rose, many often wanted to break with the co-op and sell to other dried fruit packers when spot prices at harvest were higher than the promised rate. The "nondelivery penalties" in the contracts started chasing growers away from the co-op.

Enter Hyde and his partner, Ruel K. Thomas, a director and manager for the co-op. Together, they leased the Campbell Fruit Growers Union plant in Campbell for their new George E. Hyde Co., and begin processing and selling dried fruit. Like Hyde, Ruel was also a Saratoga orchardist and also from New England stock, and both men were in their fifties when they decided to bring better management to the former-co-op. The large drying yard south of the plant got lots of use, for the company packed a crop of 1000 tons of fruit in 1914, and covered the ground one day in 1914 with 1,300 trays of drying fruit. In 1913, Hyde bought out Thomas, and owned the plant completely as well as the drying yard acreage.

I suspect Hyde got into running packing houses because of his interest in the machinery needed to process all the fruit. Once he owned the Campbell plant completely, that mechanical interest could flourish. He branched out from fruit drying straight to the new and interesting canning world, and the George E. Hyde Co. started canning in earnest in 1915. The August 1921 Canning Age magazine states:

Mr. Geo. E. Hyde, the president, was quick to see the advantages of installing the most up-to-date equipment and has personally spent considerable time and has entailed considerable expense in experimenting with conveyor systems. He noticed that chain conveyors, belt conveyors, gravity conveyors, and elevators had come into the limelight and that amazing results had been accomplished by their use. The result of his investigations was the installation of a complete system of inter-departmental conveyors, and the success is apparent in the study of operations within the plant.
With that machining experience, I suspect it was obvious that modern mechanical help could show the more old fashioned plants in the Santa Clara Valley how it's done. One can imagine Hyde making a quick call to Mailler Searles (equipment sellers) in San Francisco, then visits by salesman and sales engineers, and before long, Mailler Searles would have dispatched some of Mathews Gravity Conveyor's finest engineers to plan and install their labor-saving conveyors all over the plant, all with George's full attention.

Hyde kept modernizing and expanding; in 1919, he added a new warehouse south of the Campbell Fruit Grower Union's original brick warehouse, and a new box storage building west of the old warehouse.

Taking a Chance with the Banks Hyde's growth, however, did appear to come at a cost, for the modern equipment can't have been cheap. I haven't found much in the pre-1922 records, but I get the feeling that growing the Hyde plant required a lot of borrowed money. As long as prices stayed high and he was producing as much as he expected, things would be fine.

In 1922, we start to see hints about the capital required to start up a modern cannery. In June 1922, Hyde mortgaged the cannery property to T.S. Montgomery, Sunsweet's president (book 156 trust deeds, pg 483), but paid off the $8,100 mortgage two months later in mid-August 1922. Details of that mortgage aren't available from the Clerk-Recorder; pre-1922 crop, chattel, and property mortgages never were microfilmed, so looking them up requires a visit to the Santa Clara County Archive to look at the physical books.

The next year, in a flurry of borrowing in early May, George mortgaged everything: $60,000 for the cannery equipment from the Merchantile Trust bank in downtown Campbell, payable May 1, 1928 (7/2/1923, book 41, pg 5); $60,000 for more of the equipment from M.E. Lennon, secretary of San Jose Abstract and Title Co., (7/2/1923, book 41, pg 11), also payable in 1928, and another $70,000 for for the cannery lands from M.E. Lennon (7/2/1923/ book 41, pg 15). At the same time, Hyde leased all the cannery's warehouse space to the Lawrence Warehouse Company for $1.00 on a month-by-month basis. (7/16/23, book 37 pg 368, as well as renewals in 1924) I don't know if this was a way to raise funds, or if there were legal reasons to have an official warehouse company handling those buildings, but overall feeling I get is that Hyde needed capital.

Hyde wasn't the only modern canner, for Ainsley modernized too - there's mention in the July 1918 issue of Western Canner and Packer about Ainsley buying new machinery for a "heavy pack" in 1918, but there is little sign of Ainsley taking on debt between 1923 and 1933.

At the same time, Hyde was finding other uses for the drying yard and property. George's son, Otis Hyde, ran the Hyde Investment Company and subdivided the Alice Avenue houses, and there's signs of land on the east side of the railroad tracks being subdivided. I suspect Hyde saw that care with the plant's real estate could be as much a path to riches as apricots. And It All Fades Away It's hard to tell what happened when those loans came due. Hyde would have been 72, and probably thinking about exit strategies - maybe deferring to his children, maybe selling the cannery. 1925 and 1926 had been years for huge crops and low prices in the dried fruit industry, and perhaps for the canned fruit industry. This is the same time that Charles Virden rethinks having a cannery empire.

At the same time, other, newer canneries were being built. The April 28, 1928 San Jose News congratulates its neighbors in Santa Clara for "becoming a genuine industrial city" with the addition of Pratt-Low, Libby, and the Block packing house. California Packing Corporation (Del Monte) expanded its dried fruit packing plant into the absolutely huge Plant 51 in 1926. Large plants were in vogue, and smaller canneries and dried fruit processors like George E. Hyde must have encountered some unwelcome competition.

Whatever the reason, Hyde began to fade, even before the trigger of the Great Depression. Some sources think the plant closed in 1928, others in 1929. But the Campbell Interurban Express got Sam Squibb, secretary for the cannery to speak on the record in June, 1930 about rumors that the cannery would be closed that year which suggests that although the plant had done all right in 1928 and 1929, things were significantly more iffy in 1930.

Our representative informed Mr. Squibb of the rumors going the rounds that the plant would be closed up and would not operate, and in his reply he stated that he has been at this plant for the past five years and each year he has been compelled to reply to these non-operating rumors… "I am sure that the business men who are behind this firm at this time would not even consider such a step, as they have the pride and goodwill of the community at heart, and I am sure that when the American Trust Company and their good and efficient officers of the bank here believe in us, why should our good neighbors spread these unfounded statements… Whether the present officers or help who have and will be laid off gets other work or not, I am advised that this plant will operate."

I've got to say that comment about "whether the present officers will be laid off…" would have me a trifle concerned for the future of the place. Explicitly citing the goodwill of the bankers holding the mortgage makes me very concerned.

Within a month, Squibb had to eat his words. On July 1, 1930, the Campbell Interurban Press led with the story that the "the directors.. advised Sam Squibb tonight that due to the fact that their negotiations to effect a sale of the plant were unsuccessful, the plant would remain idle this season":

"Prospects of leasing the plant are very slim, due to the advanced date. Sam Squib will remain on temporarily, at least, to straighten up affairs in the office. L. H. Vaughn, superintendent, has left for Live Oak where he has acquired an interest in a packing plant... The only possibility of the Hyde plant operating, it seems, lays in a possible war between the canners and peach growers. The growers have several canneries, but if they fail to deal with the other canners, they may be fored to pack their whole crop, and in that event it is more than likely that they will seek to acquire the Hyde plant. In that case it will operate on peaches. The possibility is very small, however."

...Unsecured creditors, it seems will not receive their regular interest, which they do not fail to get when the plant operates. A good many local people will suffer from lack of what they have come to consider regular seasonal employment.

The plant must've stayed dark the following season, generating enough concern that on October 20, 1931, the Interurban Press noted that the Campbell Chamber of Commerce was pleading with Sunsweet to use the Hyde plant for processing and packaging to keep jobs in town, and highlighting that "thousands of tons of prunes are temporarily stored here by the association."

But the mortgages were still hanging over the cannery like a dark cloud, and in late 1931, those debts finally caught up with the company. On November 5, 1931, American Trust, the successor to Merchantile Trust, won a $18,683.99 judgement against George E. Hyde & Co. Six months later, the other shoe finally dropped. On May 25, 1932, the Sheriff sold the land under the Hyde Cannery to cover the judgement. The new owner (and probably the only bidder) was American Trust; the sale price was the insulting price of $2,500 (5/25/1932, book 617, pg 141). Not many were even bidding for canneries in those days. That's quite a difference from Ainsley's $150,000 sale two years later.

Hyde went belly-up owing $189.88 to the Merchant's Association of San Jose, and even that tiny debt didn't get paid. The Sheriff's deputy came back from trying to collect the judgement in late 1932 empty-handed, unable to find any remnant of the company (5/23/1932, book 616, pg 148). Hyde Cannery was gone, and its machinery stripped. When the 1933 season came, Sunsweet was using the now-empty and cavernous cannery for storage, and the Infamous Higgins-Hyde Packing Co. was using the warehouse for receiving and storing their own dried fruit.

The Hyde Cannery was later used for maybe one or two years as a cannery. W.A. Bundy canned fruit as the "Campbell Packing Corporation" in 1933 and 1934 according to the Interurban Press, but the plant's fruit salad days were over. In 1937, the buildings were inherited by the Sunsweet plant next door, and served both as a dehydrator and addition to the dried fruit packing plant. By the 1970's, the property was reused for stores, restaurants and offices. George Hyde's well-built empire only lasted as a cannery for fifteen years, but his eye-catching buildings - the modern sawtooth roof for the cannery and the classic brick warehouse - meant that the buildings were both modern enough for reuse, and interesting enough to survive the end of the fruit era. Meanwhile, Ainsley's wood and corrugated iron buildings, immensely more productive but without the charm or the permanence, fell to the bulldozer and exist now only as memories underneath a row of townhouses.

Next time: If you actually looked at the mortgage documents listed above, you'll find they listed *everything* owned by the cannery in glorious detail. Let's look in detail at those mortgages, and see what they tell us about how the cannery operated.

[Panorama of Hyde Plant and photo of Hyde Cannery's original canning equipment are from the Bancroft Library via the Online Archive of California. Most of the photos from that collection were published in the August 1921 Cannery Age article about Hyde. Site plan for Hyde Cannery from 1930 Sanborn map of Campbell.]


  1. Wow! Interesting. Growing up in Campbell I was used to seeing the "Geo. E. Hyde & Co." painted on the cannery building as in your first picture, visible and legible well into the Seventies. Thanks for writing these!

  2. The writing's still on the cannery today - folks still know that was the Hyde plant!