Hunt Brothers Packing Company

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Summary
Business

Cannery
Main Location

San Francisco
Active

1896 - 1943
Brands

Hunt's, Cascade
Predecessors

Golden Gate Packing Company, Los Gatos Canneries, Pacific Northwest Canning Company, Pullyap Valley Storage and Warehouse Company, Winters Canning Company
Hunt Brothers Packing Company, Los Gatos, early 20th Century

Hunt Brothers Fruit Packing Company was an early California canner. The company, started in Santa Rosa by W.C. Hunt and Joseph Hunt,, quickly outgrew its home town and relocated to Hayward, California in the 1890's. The company expanded and was sold several times, but continues to exist as a modern-day brand.

Hunt Brothers was started by W. C. Hunt and Joseph H. Hunt[1]. Joseph Hunt started canning in Sebastopol, California in 1888, packing 1,500 cases of fruit in the first season. His brother joined him soon after, and they moved the cannery to Santa Rosa and organized the Hunt Brothers Fruit Packing Company to both can and dry fruit. In 1896, the brothers sold the Santa Rosa business, and incorporated a new Hunt Brothers Company with a new cannery in Hayward, California. After the death of W. C., Joseph Hunt continued the business. By 1902, the company was producing 240,000 cases of canned goods a year. The company also had connections with the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, and had a cannery under construction in 1903[2]

The company chose to stay out of the larger conglomerates,neither joining the California Fruit Canners Association or the later California Packing Corporation. "California's Finest", the history of the Del Monte Corporation, claims that Hunt Brothers merged into the California Fruit Canners Association in 1899, but in reality Hunt Brothers appears to have been fighting against the huge association and its ally, the American Can Company. Because American Can would not sell cans at competitive prices, Hunt started their own can plant, and in 1901 built a plant double the size at the foot of Oak Street in Oakland, and began selling cans to the other non-association members. American Can relented, and offered to buy the Hunts can plant and guarantee buying cans at a reduced price for five years as long as Hunts stayed out of the can business for ten years[3]. There is some mention of Hunt Brothers owning Portland's Rose City Packing Company, which was part of the CFCA[4].

(Read more about opposition to the California Fruit Canners' Association.)

In March 1918, Joseph H. Hunt sold his interest in the company to Julius Landsberger[5][6][7]. Directors for the new venture were W.C. Cox, G. M. Murphy, A. St. Johnson, M.C. Liston, T. E. Folck, Alan Van Fleet, T. M. McNell, D. J. Walsh, and Blah Schuman[8]. Landesberger declared that the incorporation was "for the purpose of settling and cleaning up old affairs of the corporation"[9]. At the time of the sale, Western Canner and Packer declared it was the third-largest fruit-packing business on the west coast, with plants in San Jose, Los Gatos, Exeter, Salem, and Hayward. Landsberger had already been active in the canning business, and owned patents for canning jars. Emil H. Nielsen was listed as a first vice-president in 1920; he had also been president of the Golden State Asparagus Company, and manager of Oakland Preserving Company in 1895[10].

Hunts also merged with San Jose's venerable Golden Gate Packing Company in April 1918. California Fruit News highlights Elmer Chase's addition to the staff, and speaks much more glowingly about Chase's reputation in the canning industry than of any of the other principals. The article also declares that Chase would become a director of Hunt Brothers, and that Hunt Brothers would be directing the actions of Golden Gate. (Chase left soon after to form Richmond-Chase.) The article also mentions that both companies had the merger would lead to "the closest of future relations between the packers and buying trade", suggesting both companies had unusually strong relations with the wholesalers[11].

The Hunts cannery in Exeter, California closed during 1921[12].

Frank A. Dixon was general superintendent of Hunt Brothers from in 1921, and had been with the company since 1906. Dixon had gotten his start with the San Jose Fruit Packing Company[13].

In March, 1922, Landsberger sold his controlling share to the other directors including Gustav H. Bradt. Bradt had been the sales manager of Hunt Brothers until 1916, then general manager for the business. He formed his own brokerage after the takeover, but returned in 1922 potentially bankrolled by a Chicago grocery wholesaler[14]. Bradt declared that the company intended to focus less on Hunts' own product and do more private label supplies for other retailers[15].

Hunts was bought by Norton Simon in the early 1940's and became part of his Val Vita Foods conglamerate in the 1940's, which soon changed its name to Hunt Foods. Simon also acquired Wesson in the early 1950's, and renamed the company Hunt-Wesson. The conglomerate was bought by Beatrice, then a private investment group, and finally by ConAgra in the 1980's. Hunts still exists as a modern-day brand.

Hunts in Hayward

Hunt Brothers Packing Company, Hayward, 1926.

Hayward packed cherries, peaches, apricots, eventually tomatoes. The cannery was huge, with its own glass manufacturing plant and can making plant. The February 1923 Western Canner and Packer said that 600,000 cases expected to be packed in 1923, and that the plant should be in operation from March to November[16]

Hunts in Los Gatos

Hunt Brothers Packing Company bought the Los Gatos Fruit Packing Company from George Hooke in 1906, and used the plant for canning fruit, both produced locally and elsewhere. The original cannery on Santa Cruz Ave. near downtown was abandoned in 1907 for a new, larger plant at Santa Cruz Ave. and Saratoga Ave[17]. The building for the new cannery had previously been a winery built by Amedee Delpach[18]. A new floor was added to raise the warehouse up three feet. Boilers were installed at the north end of the building; the receiving room was in the southwest, and a new warehouse 80 feet wide and 225 feet long was being built. Hunt Brothers also asked to relocate a cemetery just north of their warehouse[19] The new plant was christened with a celebratory dance on May 1, 1907[20] The next year, Hunt enlarged the railroad spur[21].


In the 1927 season, Manager W. F. Gasman started canning apricots in early July. The cannery required 350 workers, filling the cannery's 55 cottages and 15 tent houses[22].

In the 1928 season, Hunts produced 582,000 pounds of apricots, 12,000 pounds of plums, 1.3 million pounds of pears, and 6 million pounds of peaches[23]. In the 1930 season, the manager E. K. Sullivan oversaw apricots and peaches, with four railroad cars of tuscan peaches arriving in mid-July for canning.[24].

All the fruit and sugar tempted the local bees into the cannery in the 1922 season[25].

Hunts closed the Los Gatos cannery in the late 1920's and early 1930's, and apparently only used the building as a warehouse. Hunts sold the cannery in September 1942 to W. J. Gould of Los Angeles[26]. The cannery was then sold to Seagrams distilling interests on May 11, 1943 after their purchase of the Paul Masson properties[27]. The cannery had not been in operation at that point for ten years. 13,000 sq ft of 70Ksq ft were already leased by Louis Devich in 1943 in hopes of canning.

Some of the Los Gatos cannery fire prevention equipment went to Sunsweet in 1944[28].

The Hunts Cannery building disappeared some time between 1953 and 1956; the empty lot where the cannery formerly sat was used by travelling circuses[29] until a new strip mall was built in the 1960's.

Hunts In San Jose

Hunt Brothers' San Jose plant had formerly been the Golden Gate Packing Company, an early San Jose canner. Golden Gate's plant was at 361 North Fourth Street, just east of the old Market Street Depot, and in the fork between the railroad tracks to Oakland and Los Angeles. The buildings used by Hunt Brothers had been used for canning since the 1880's. Hunt Brothers purchased Golden Gate in April 1919, just after the sale of the company to Landsberger[30]. Elmer Chase, a former manager, left to join Richmond-Chase soon after. Within two years, the company planned for expansion by purchasing the Salinas Valley Grain and Produce plant adjacent[31].

E. L. Snell was the superintendent of the "Golden Gate branch of the Hunt Brothers Packing Company" from 1919 to 1929; he resigned in 1929, and the job was picked up by W. H. Hudson who had been running the Suisun plant[32].

Locations

Location Years Address Details
Campbell 1946- Harrison Ave. Former Drew Cannery.
Davis 1963-1999
Exeter 1912-1921[33]. 1912 cannery west of Pine St. along railroad tracks[34] "Near Kirk Hotel"[35]. The company expanded the plant in 1914[36] and supposedly was idled in 1921[37] and never reopened. (Strangely, Hunt Brothers claimed they were going to be doubling the size of the cannery in 1922[38]. Became C. B. Williams Co. and Pacific Fruit Exchange[39].
Gridley 1903- Locust Street, east of railroad tracks First cannery
Gridley 1903-1920[40][41][42] 100 block of Kentucky Street (south of Locust, west of railroad tracks) Sold to Libby, McNeil, and Libby by 1920.
Hayward 1891-1981 A, B, C street at railroad tracks
Los Gatos 1907-1930 Santa Cruz Avenue at Highway 9 Former Hooke / Los Gatos Canneries, purchased 1906. Torn down by 1956.
Oakland 1902 Foot of Oak Street Can plant[43].
Salem 1914-1956 Front Street[44] Construction described in 1921 Canning Age[45].
San Francisco 1918 112 Market Street From Julius Landsberger's draft card.
San Jose 1918, 1922, 1936, 1940 361 North Fourth Street Former Golden Gate Packing Co, purchased 1918.
Santa Rosa 1895- 11-19 West Third Street[46] Sold by 1896?
Suisun 1920s- Illinois St. near Union St.[47] Originally Winters Canning Company[48] Canned peaches and asparagus[49].

Photos

Hunt Brothers Cannery, Los Gatos Museums of Los Gatos

Hunts Cannery, Los Gatos, 1930

Hunts cannery loading dock.

Hunts Cannery, Los Gatos, 1930

Hunt Cannery - unloading fresh fruit. 1920s. History Los Gatos.

Photo of Hunt Brothers packing house. Sonoma County Library / Sonoma Heritage Collections.

Salem. From Salemhistory.net.

References

  1. Biography of Joseph H. Hunt: History of the New California Its Resources and People, Lewis Publishing Company, 1905.
  2. Leigh Hadley Irvine, History of the New California. Lewis Publishing Company, 1903. "The members of the company are also interested in the Hawaiian Pineapple Company of Honolulu, incorporated, and Mr. Hunt has taken a very important part in the development of the pineapple industry on the islands. The company is planting one thousand acres there as rapidly as possible to that fruit. The cannery has already been built and in a few years the outpost will reach several hundred thousand cases of pineapple."
  3. Trust Secures Can Plant: March 15, 1902 San Francisco Call. Full article.
  4. Fruit Canners: The California Association Now and Assured Fact: July 18, 1899 Sacramento Record-Union. "The first legal controversy in which the new organization has been involved developed today through a suit brought by Charles W. Pike against the Hunt Brothers' Packing Company. The latter company owns the Rose City cannery...shares of stock in the California Fruit Canners Association held by the Hunt Brothers' Fruit Packing Company have been garnisheed by the plaintiffs."
  5. Hunt Brothers Rumor: March 3, 1918 San Francisco Chronicle. "Hunt Bros Rumor Negotiations for the sale of a considerable block of the stock of Hunt Brothers Company to Julius A Landsberger are In progress. It Is understood that Landsberger will acquire the majority of the Joseph Hunt holdings. Hunt Brothers Company Is one of the oldest fruit canning establishments In the city with offices at 112 Market street. C H Bradt, one of the owners, said yeaterday that no radical change was contemplated In the management of the business but that the announcement of the Landsberger purchase probably would be made some time this week."
  6. Change in Cannery Co.: March 16, 1918 Weekly Commercial News. "Joseph H. Hunt… has disposed of his controlling interest in the corporation… a reorganization of the personnel and management has already followed the withdrawal of Hunt.
  7. Hunt Brothers Packing Company: Walkers Manual of California Securities and Directory of Directors. Hunt Brothers Packing Co. was organized March 8, 1919 to take over the business of Hunt Brothers Company.
  8. Hunt Brothers Company Forms New Corporation: May 2, 1919 San Jose Evening News.
  9. Wonderful Fruit Year for the State Says Packing Company President: May 8, 1919 San Jose Mercury Herald.
  10. Oakland Preserving Company: George Caldwood, Oakland: Athens of the Pacific", 1897, Oakland Board of Trade.
  11. Amalgamation of Prominent Canners: April 13, 1918 California Fruit News.
  12. November 1921 Canning Age
  13. Retired Cannery Man Dies: December 23, 1943 San Jose Evening News.
  14. Hunt Brothers Company Announces Important Changes In Personnel: March 9, 1918 California Fruit News.
  15. Further Expansion of Hunt Brothers Packing Company. February 1923 Western Canner and Packer
  16. Northern California Canneries: March 1923 Western Canner and Packer.
  17. Los Gatos: Canning Company Plans Improvements on Plant - Directors of Coffee Club Plan Annual Meeting. January 10, 1907 San Jose Mercury News. "The Los Gatos Canneries are being removed from their present location on Lyndon and Santa Cruz Avenues to the Delpech Winery buildings at the junction of Saratoga Ave with Santa Cruz avenue. The new location will be a great improvement, and the plant is to be extensively enlarged and improved, and modern machinery added. It is understood that fruits and vegetables other than have been handled in the past will in the future be canned for the world's markets."
  18. Los Gatos: Hunt Brothers Making Extensive Improvements for New Canning Plant. April 16, 1907 San Jose Mercury News. "Very few people realize the vastness of the improvements that are underway at the Hunt Brothers big cannery at the corner of Santa Cruz Avenue and the Saratoga Road. The immense winery building that was erected by the late A. Delpech has been ceiled overhead, and a floor three feet above the ground, and ventilator and light shafts installed at convenient distances. At the north of the main building boilers are being installed, and when that is completed a suitable building will enclose it. The southwest corner of the lot has been covered with a high one story building that will be used as a receiving room, and as the fruit is processed it will finally be placed in the large warehouse alongside the track, the foundations of which are already laid. This building will be eighty feet wide by a length of two hundred and twenty five feet, and on the east side of it for the whole length is the spur track adjoining the main track of the Southern Pacific Company... Their superintendent C. C. Van Eaton has made his home here permanently. All the operations of moving from the old plant, which they purchased from the Los Gatos Canneries, has been made under his personal supervision. He brings with him skillful assistants in several departments who have been with him a number of years."
  19. Los Gatos. April 23, 1908 San Jose Sunday Mercury and Herald.
  20. Los Gatos. April 23, 1907. "Manager Van Eaton, of the Hunt Brothers' Cannery, is arranging for a dance to be given May Day at the new cannery building on Santa Cruz Avenue. The floor will be put in good shape and electric lights installed for the occasion. This is to celebrate the opening of the factory."
  21. Los Gatos. July 28, 1907 San Jose Mercury News. "The spur track leading to the Hunt Brothers' cannery has been enlarged to meet increasing demands of business."
  22. Los Gatos Starts Apricot Canning in Coming Week: June 30, 1927 San Jose Evening News.
  23. [apricots article
  24. Peach Packing Begins in Los Gatos Cannery. July 25, 1930 San Jose Evening News. "Hunt Brothers Cannery of Saratoga Ave. yesterday began their peach pack which is expected to last until September 25, according to E. K. Sullivan, manager. Four carloads of Tuscans arrived from the San Joaquin Valley and one car from Yuba County via the Southern Pacific, Friday morning. Next week the cannery will finish their apricot pack and about August 1 will begin canning the mid-summer and Philip variety of peaches, which are a better canning variety than Tuscans. There will be some pears packed before the cannery closes, but not many, Manager Sullivan said. More than 400 men and women are employed at the plant. New equipment which was installed during the winter was put into use for the first time yesterday."
  25. Canners Vexed by Problem of Swarm of bees: July 14, 1922 San Jose Evening News
  26. Cannery Property at Los Gatos Sold for $40,000: September 23, 1942 San Jose Evening News
  27. Hunt Bros. Cannery Sale Completed: May 11, 1943 San Jose Evening News.
  28. San Jose Fire Museum hose reel
  29. Judy Peterson, Two Los Gatos Italians form a 'brotherly bond' around food and cars". August 16, 2010 San Jose Mercury News. "Although Zanardi bought a portion of the Los Gatos Shopping Center in 2001, he just completed purchasing the rest of it a few weeks ago. He estimates the shopping center was built in late ’50s or early ’60s, but way back when, it was a Hunt’s packing plant. “When I was a kid, this shopping center was a big, empty lot,” Zanardi said. “The carnival used to come here every year. We couldn’t wait for the carnival.”
  30. Amalgamation of Prominent Canners: April 13, 1918 California Fruit News.
  31. Big Produce Co. Plant Sold To Hunt Brothers: April 3, 1920 San Jose Evening News.
  32. Hunt Brothers Superintendent Takes New Job: May 17, 1929 San Jose Evening News.
  33. Eugene E. Menefee, History of Tulare and King Counties, California. Declares that Hunts moved to Tulare County in 1912.
  34. 1912 Sanborn map, Exeter CA. Map 7.
  35. City of Exeter Historic Photos.
  36. Canning Notes. October 10, 1914 California Fruit News. "Work will soon be started on another large industrial plant in Exeter, Tulare County, by Hunt Bros. Company, owner of the large Exeter cannery, says the Exeter Tribune. The new plant... will pickle and prepare olives for the market."
  37. Cannery News. December 1921 Canning Age. "The Hunt Bros. Cannery Co. of Exeter, California, are calling for 100 tons of fresh California figs to follow their peach run next summer. The Exeter cannery remained idle during the past season, but losses thru overhead and depreciation on idle machinery have warned against any repetition of this policy in future years."
  38. California Canneries. January 1922 Western Canner and Packer. "Announcement is made that the Exeter cannery will be doubled in size and extensively improved. Cookers and equipment suitable for canning of almost any kind of fruit or vegetable will be installed so the cannery can operate several more months in the year."
  39. Sanborn map, Exeter CA. June 1926, Page 6.
  40. Ruth Ann King et all, Gridley. Arcadia Publishing. "As the cannery grew, it became the property of Libby, McNeil, and Libby."
  41. Leigh Hadley Irvine, History of the New California. Lewis Publishing Company, 1903. "The Hunt Brothers Company also owns a fruit packing establishment and cannery at Gridley, Butte county, California, which has a capacity of thirty thousand cases annually."
  42. Ruth Ann King et. al., Gridley, Arcadia Press. "Hunt Brothers built a cannery in Gridley to take advantage of the new method of preserving fruits and vegetables."
  43. Trust Secures Can Plant: March 15, 1902 San Francisco Call. Full article.
  44. Salem's Canneries: www.salemhistory.net. "When the Hunt Brothers Packing Company built a cannery on the river at the foot of Division Street in 1914, the Fruit Union sold their canning line to the latter...
  45. 1921 Canning Age
  46. Photo of Hunt Brothers packing house. Sonoma County Library / Sonoma Heritage Collections.
  47. Southern Pacific Company, Station Map Suisun-Fairfield. 1910-1925. Reprinted in "SP Trainline Fall 2015" (Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society magazine).
  48. Sabine Goerke-Shrode, Fairfield. Arcadia Publishing. "The Winters Canning Company operated in Suisun, starting around 1910. During canning season, the company ran three daily shifts, employing hundreds of local women. The Hunt Brothers Company bought them up in the mid-1920's."
  49. Kristin Delaplane, Agricultural tradition of Solano recounted. Newspaper column, reprinted by the Vacaville Museum / Historical Articles of Solano County online database. Kirby Allen Stevens worked there in the late 1920's. "The cannery's warehouse was in year-round operation, because they were shipping all the time. The canning itself was seasonal work. In the spring, they canned peaches that came from the Suisun Valley, Vacaville, and Winters. The canning lasted about two months. In the fall, it was asparagus from the Alexander Kellogg ranch on Grizzly Island and a lot of asparagus also came from over Rio Vista way. Asparagus was again a relatively short season."