Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Making Money the Old-Fashioned Way: Selling Nice Things

Reading through the perils of cannery owners, sometimes it looks like the typical canner was behaving a lot more like a Silicon Valley startup. Production volume was the big goal, margins didn't seem so great, competition was tough, and the cost of raw materials went all over the place. Sometimes, it looked like their model was that oh-so-modern "I'll lose money on every product, but I'll make it up in volume!" I didn't hear about any canneries actively giving away product, but I may not have been looking in the right magazines.

But then you come across Elton Shaw's Shaw Family Cannery, and you find out that some of the canneries focused on making a beautiful product, and seemed to do okay. Even better, their story includes the drama of the lone entrepreneur, and the multi-national that bought them, and the sale to another mega-corporation, and that scrappy entrepreneur buying the company back to make fruit by-products the way he thought it should be done.

The Shaw Family Cannery was special because they didn't just do canned fruit - they also were a maker of fine jam. As Edith Daley breathlessly described during her visit in August, 1919 (quoted in the August 5, 1919 San Jose Evening News):

"From the ripening of the first cherry until the last ruddy apple turns into deliciously old-fashioned "back-east" apple butter, this place of "fine jams and preserves" offers a diversified program with every act a top-liner. Jellies of all fruit flavors and attractive colors; jam that makes you hungry for hot biscuit-and jam; preserves that you can "see through" they are so clear; orange marmalade; apricot marmalade; spiced peaches and pears, and apricots. Melba pack means only three or four perfect peaches or pears in each glass jar."

Edith wasn't the only fan; the March 1915 Coffee and Tea Industries and the Flavor Fields Magazine also thought highly of their fruit:

The Hyde-Shaw Co., under the able direction of Mr. Shaw, has attained a foremost position among canning plants, specializing in putting fruits into attractive glass packages. Hyde-Shaw goods, grown and packed in the wonderful Santa Clara Valley, have been sold largely under private labels. The Hyde-Shaw pack is hand-peeled and comprises the full list of California fruits, in a wide variety of preserved and packed forms; is double German-processed, and presents a most attractive appearance in the sanitary glass jars."

The Cannery History: The cannery started off as the Hyde-Shaw cannery in 1907, run by William H. Hyde, Jr. (unrelated to the Campbell Hydes) and Elton Randall Shaw. Elton was either an extremely interesting character, or else there were a lot of kids with his name running around California. There's signs in old census and voting records that he was a farmer in Berryessa in 1884; a miner in Enterprise, Butte County, in 1896; an engineer for the "Electric Laundry" in San Francisco in 1899; and the sales manager for the Economy Jar Company before 1907.

I've found less on Hyde; he was born in California in 1865; his father was a former 49'er, house mover, and contractor who appeared to have been quite successful. Hyde himself turns up as a clerk and bookkeeper at different points in his life; through 1903, all our sightings of him are in San Francisco; then, in 1907, he turns up as half of the Hyde-Shaw company and living in beautiful San Jose. That "just jump to conclusions!" part of me immediately guesses that he came to The Valley Of Heart's Delight as a San Francisco earthquake refugee, who then moseyed on back up to Berkeley once he cashed out.

First Independent, Then Bought By the Hawaiians: Around 1907, Mr. Shaw teamed up with Mr. Hyde and formed Hyde-Shaw to can fruit in attractive glass jars. And then, of course, as you might expect in the Santa Clara Valley, they got an offer they couldn't refuse, as the Hawaiian Pineapple Company wanted a way to sell their pineapple juice on the mainland, and a local canner seemed like just the ticket. The May 30, 1910 Hawaiian Star notes that as part of the new company direction (led by the company's president, James D. Dole), they were buying the entire Hyde-Shaw Company, and bringing Mr. Shaw on staff. Hyde, instead got a handy $15,000 and a handshake for his half of the company, and moseyed back up to spend the rest of his days in Berkeley, sometimes being less entrepreneurial as he did bookkeeping for a bank and similar jobs, but at least he'd grabbed for his gold ring.

Bought By the Delawareans: Dole's plan was to let Hyde-Shaw run for a couple years in its current configuration, then start working on the pineapple juice business with Shaw's help. But it wasn't to be; after five years, Hyde-Shaw was sold again, this time to Richardson and Robbins, a Delaware-based canner looking for a west coast connection and a source for fancy California fruit. The March 13, 1915 California Fruit News notes that Shaw will direct both the San Jose plant and Richardson and Robbins's existing Dover, Delaware plant, where he'd be continuing their production of canned plum pudding, boned chicken, and Delware peaches and pears. Richardson and Robbins, like Dole, had grand plans to extend the business in the future.

Buying His Own Company Back: And in a very Silicon Valley, dot-com story, Richardson and Robbins didn't keep their purchase long, but sold the company back to Elton Shaw in 1918, where the founder would be able to run the company right. And he did that, as Edith's full article explains. "This is no affair of the preserving kettle and a long-handled spoon! No heart here skips a beat for fear the bubbling stuff won't "jell". They never have to set it on the windowsill in the sun and pray over it! In most families, jam and jelly are a gamble. With the Shaw Family incorporated, Fourth and Virginia streets, it is a Science." Edith also notes that Shaw Family fruit is of such great quality that it's served on Pennsylvania and New York Central dining cars. She also waxes rhapsodic on the orange marmalade processing, and the beautiful views from the third floor of the plant.

But nothing goes forever, whether in dot-com land or in the jam business, and neither did the Shaw Family Cannery. In 1928, a large fire destroyed their warehouse and product. To recapitalize, Elton went, hat in hand, to the people of San Jose, and offered shares in the company to help them rebuild; the offering appeared in a full-page ad in the October 30, 1928 San Jose Evening News. The money-raising must have worked, for the cannery continued to turn up in city directories until 1940, with the last entry listing the company as "fruit juice makers", with A.G. Moore president, A.A. Hapgood, vice-president, and E.S. Shaw as secretary and manager. An old issue of the Almaden Resident from 2005 hints that Elton Shaw was running a cannery out at his ranch on McKean Road in the Almaden Valley, which may hint that Elton continued to moonlight in the cannery business.

Dole, of course, ended up back on that corner years later when they bought the Barron-Gray cannery across the street from Hyde-Shaw, and ensured that their pineapple would be filling America's fruit salad bowls.

[Shaw's Fine Jams ad from a December 10, 1920 San Jose Evening News. Building layout from a 1915 Sanborn map, showing the Shaw Family Cannery on the west side of Fourth at Virginia. Note Sunsweet #17 (former O.A. Harlan packing house) one block up at Martha.]

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