Great Western Can Company

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Can Maker
Main Location

San Francisco


American Can Company

The Great Western Can Company was a turn-of-the-century upstart tin can manufacturer which challenged the two major can producers with new products and machines. Great Western Can Company was founded in 1895 by Axel Johnson, Samuel G. Murphy, Charles Josselyn, E. T. Preston,and J.A. Hooper[1].[2]. The Great Western Can Company was merged into the American Can Company in 1901[3][4] Great Western Can Company was listed as an inactive corporation by 1906[5].

Great Western had their own can making technique, described in several sources[6][7].

Oct 24, 1895 paper (San Francisco Call?)


A Chicago Company With Millions Is Ready to Fight.


A San Francisco Concern, Sustained by Ample Capital, Responds.

A battle royal is now on between a Chicago firm backed by $5,000,000 and a San Francisco institution with equal resources in cash. The objective point of the contest is control of the tin-can industry of the Pacific Coast in general and the California market in particular. This State uses annually in the fruit and vegetable packing industry about 42,000,000 tin cans. For many years Norton Bros. of Chicago, through the Pacific Can Company, enjoyed a monopoly of this lucrative branch of manufacturing. The first concern to enter the field as a competitor was the Eagle Automatic Company oi California. Litigation begun by the Chicago parties immediately followed the invasion, but after a prolonged contest in the court the rival interests coalesced and formed a combination, which was described in The Call of last Sunday. The consolidated institution is sustained by millions of money, and will fight vigorously against all comers to monopolize the trade.

Facts are now coming to light which explain the consolidation. A new and formidable rival has appeared on the scene which expects to be able to supply the California trade with 12,000,000 cans during the next packing season. The contest has progressed beyond the limits of early compromise, and the natural result must be a great reduction in the price of cans, and a substantial benefit to fruit growers and canners throughout the Pacific Coast.

Some time ago a remarkable mechanical invention was perfected in San Francisco. It was practically tested and so satisfactory was the result of experiments that Charles Josselyn, E. P. Preston and the inventor, ; Mr. Johnson, proceeded to organize and incorporate the Great Western Can Company. Briefly described, the newly invented machine takes the sheet of tin plate and produces without the touch of the human hand a tin can, headed at each end, joined, soldered and ready for use.

In the commercial world rivalry for business is intense and alert agents keep their principals posted concerning new developments and new discoveries. It was not long before the Chicago corporation was informed that a powerful rival was preparing to invade the Held in California. The Chicago company at once dispatched leading attorneys and mechanical experts to San Francisco, and all the information possible was gleaned regarding the merits of the new invention, the money resources of the men controlling it and the probable production under the new process.

Meanwhile E. F. Preston, the attorney of the Great Western Company, secured patents and called in other leading lawyers to examine the question of infringement. When the opinion of the lawyers was submitted the Great Western Can Company was inaugurated and re-enforced with ample capital.

The Chicago concern in its preparation for battle first effected a consolidation with the Eagle Automatic Company. When this concentration was accomplished Bradstreet's Agency was called in to furnish data concerning the standing and credit of the men sustaining the California company. An inquiry was made in [???] circles and at the banks regarding the [???] and property resources of the leading men in the home company. The promoters of the new institution did not place any obstacle in the path of inquiry and in course of time the Chicago agents ascertained that their opponents were not poor mechanics with a few impecunious friends but a company of capitalists who could command the .support of millions.

The Chicago capitalists then elected to fight in the courts, perceiving that they could not crush the rival company by competition in the open field. They have retained as counsel the law firm of Muridav, Evarts & Adcock of their own city.

The junior member of the firm came to Ban Francisco and a few days ago. In a letter to Charles Josselyn notifying him that the machine used by the Great Western Can Company was an infringement ion a certain patent granted to the Eagle Automatic Company. The letter ordered Mr. Josselyn to desist from the manufacture of tin cans at the peril of litigation.

The communication was not the promoters of the home company knew that Chicago agents had been well informed as to the new machine, and knew also that trade involving 42,000,000 cans I was worth a contest."

The communication was placed in the hands of E. F. Preston, attorney of the home company, who promptly replied that his clients proposed to transact business in their own way. He announced himself ready to respond at once in court.

The litigation will take place in the United States Circuit Court, Judge McKenna, and promises to become one of the keenest controversies of the year.

The Great Western Can Company has just ordered from London $100,000 worth of tin plate, and asserts that it will be able to place on the market for the coming season's business at least 12.000,000 cans. Under the competition prices are sure to come down and the fruit-growers will be the gainers.

The company took over the can production line of the San Jose Fruit Packing Company plant on San Carlos St in San Jose (the future Del Monte cannery) in 1897[8]. Existed in 1899 at San Carlos and Los Gatos Creek (east side of the railroad tracks). See newspaper story about the Castle Brothers fire.

Great Western Can Company moved to their own plant on Stockton Ave. at Lenzen Ave. in 1900 on land that would would become the Richmond Chase cannery. The new plant used machinery from "California Canneries" (San Jose Fruit Packing) near the narrow gauge depot in San Jose, but was independent from the cannery. The site permitted separate spurs from the narrow gauge and standard gauge to better serve canners on each railroad. The cannery supplied both fruit canners as well as salmon canners.[9]. The new cannery could produce 60,000 cans a day.

Pacific Rural Press, December 18, 1897:

"CAN MAKING: The Great Western Can Company have purchased the tin can plant of the San Jose Fruit Packing Company. Mr Josselyn, president of the first-named corporation, figured for several months on a proposition to establish a plant for the manufacture of cans at the Potrero, but after due reflection, decided to locate the works at San Jose, which is now a terminal point under the railroad classification. The advantages offered at San Jose are side tracks leading tfrom the main line of the railroad to the factory. The right to use oil for fuel is also estimated as an advantage. The extensive machinery which was formerly used by the San Jose Fruit Packing Company will be replaced by the recently invented modern machinery, and by May 1 the new factory will be able to turn out 4,000,000 cans per month.

Only can maker in San Jose in 1900 city directory.


Location Years Address Details
San Francisco 1896 223 Mission Street 1896 Crocker-Langley San Francisco directory
San Jose 1898, 1900 San Carlos Street At narrow gauge. Ad from cannery in May 17, 1898 San Francisco Call
San Jose 1900, 1902 Lenzen Ave. At Stockton Ave. New factory to be built on west (north) side of Lenzen between Stockton and Center (Senter) Street. no evidence for its construction?


  1. The Sacramento Daily Record-Union [ Friday, December 31, 1897 issue mentions incorporation.
  2. Incorporated in San Francisco in October 1895 by Axel Johnson, Samuel G. Murphy, Charles Josselyn, E. T. Preston, J. A. Hooper, each of whom has subscribed $500 on a $300,000 capital stock.
  3. 1901 Sanitary and Heating Age
  4. Chicago Securities summary of American Can Company history
  5. California Secretary of State, ... By California. Secretary of State Certified Copy of Compiled Statement of Domestic Corporations Whose Charters Have Been Revoked, December 14, 1905
  6. Chicago Journal of Commerce and Metal Industries, July 4, 1896.
  7. Automatic Can Making Plant: The Metal Worker, January 22, 1898.
  8. Tin Can Plant Bought: December 10, 1897 San Jose Evening News: "Mr Josselyn... [planned to] establish a plant for the manufacture of cans at he Potrero, but...decided to locate the works at San Jose which is now a terminal point under the railroad classification. The advantages offered at San Jose are side-tracks leading from the main line of the railroad to the factory. The right to use oil for fuel is also estimated as an advantage."
  9. San Jose Evening News, August 14, 1900.