Porter Brothers

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Dried Fruit Packers
Main Location


1869 - 1903

Porter Brothers was a San Jose and Chicago-based dried fruit packer, founded in 1869, that was an early proponent of shipping fruit from California. Washington Porter, one of the brothers, had come to California in 1868 for his health and worked for a Mr. Gould on a ranch near Santa Clara. He'd recognized the profit to be made in shipping pears to the east coast. was a ranch-hand in the Santa Clara Valley and realized the potential profit to be made in the dried fruit business. After being informed that the railway company would not ship pears without prepayment of freight charges, he wrote to his father asking for money. His father was unwilling to bankroll the business. However, Washington's brother Fred, running a livery stable in Chicago at the time, did see the potential and sold his livery stable to start the Chicago side of the business. Fred died in Chicago in the 1890's; Washington retired from the business in 1895 as well.[1].

In its prime, Porter Brothers dominated their industry and sometimes generated distrust. During a meeting of the California Fruit Union in 1890 when the question of representation in eastern markets, a Mr Hatch declared "'I am opposed to a dictator, and Mr. Porter is to-day the dictator of the California Fruit Union."[2]

The company collapsed and declared bankruptcy on May 12, 1903, supposedly because of an attempt to corner the apple market - the company had bought 300,000 barrels at $2.50 each, but could only sell them at 50 cents each[3]. San Jose newspaper articles reported much surprise in the local fruit business. J. W. Chilton, the local manager, knew little about the problems, Rumors that the plant had been padlocked were incorrect, but local office had been taken over by receiver at 6pm the previous night. "One dealer asserted that Porter Brothers had... sold fruit on on the market at the actual figure which had been paid to the grower." [4]. At the time of the collapse, the company had branches in New York, Boston, Minneapolis, and in several places in California[5].

Porter Brothers in San Jose

Porter Brothers had several sites in San Jose, starting with a set of shed on Julian Street at Bassett. The site started out as a collection of sheds in 1884[6]. The company also appeared to have an office in downtown San Jose; in 1896 and 1900, the California Dried Fruit Agency was in the "Porter Building". In 1898, that site was reported as shipping about 100 cars of green fruit and two to three of dried fruit, and two carloads of nuts and almonds east each year[7].

By 1898, the company was on North First Street. Fire destroyed that building in that year[8][9]. The company relocated to the former Garden City Packing buildings at Taylor and San Pedro[10], and later settled on a site on North First Street. The manager in later years was J. W. Chilton; when Porter Brothers collapsed, Chilton reopened the business under his own name.


Location Years Address Details
Chicago 1903 97 South Water Street

From New York Times article on bankruptcy.

Chicago 1903 46 River Street

From New York Times article on bankruptcy.

Newcastle[11][12] 1891, 1895
Red Bluff[13] 1900
San Jose 1884 Julian Street at Bassett

Southeast corner.

San Jose 1898 Taylor and San Pedro

Former Garden City Packing buildings

San Jose 1898, 1900, 1902 385 North First Street Later re-opened by plant manager as J. W. Chilton Fruit Packing.


  1. Post-mortem on Porter Brothers crash: September 12, 1903 Evening News
  2. War Against Porter Brothers: January 17, 1890 Sacramento Daily Union.
  3. Watson Went Down Line: San Francisco Banks Affected by the Porter Brothers Failure: May 21, 1903 in the Evening News
  4. Fruit Firm's Collapse: Porter Bros Company Fails for $3,000,000: May 20, 1903 in the Evening News
  5. May 20, 1903 New York Times article.
  6. 1884 San Jose Sanborn map
  7. History of Santa Clara County
  8. MONDAY NIGHT'S FIRE AT SAN JOSE: September 28, 189 Sacramento Daily Union.
  9. SAN JOSE'S TWO CONFLAGRATIONS But One Fatality at the Hotel Vendome... Porter Bros.' Fruit Packing Warehouse Totally Destroyed — Loss About $30,000: September 28, 1898 San Francisco Call confirms pre-1898 location was on North First Street.
  10. SAN JOSE'S TWO CONFLAGRATIONS: San Francisco Call September 28, 1898
  11. Mentioned in 1895 lawsuit
  12. Bergholdt vs Porter Brothers 114 Cal 681, California Supreme Court, ruled November 6, 1896. Disagreement about whether an individual was an independent operator or a representative of Porter Brothers.
  13. In San Francisco Call 1900 list of delivery spots for California Cured Fruit Association