Rosenberg Brothers

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Summary
Business

Dried Fruit Packer
Main Location

San Francisco, CA
Active

1893-1947
Predecessors

H.E. Losse and Company
Successors

Consolidated Grocers, Mayfair Packing, Bonner Packing
Rosenberg Brothers, Santa Clara, 1926.[1]

Rosenberg Brothers was a major San Francisco-based dried fruit packer. The company was started in 1893 by Max Rosenberg, Abraham Rosenberg, and Adolph Rosenberg to pack and ship California fruit to the east. The brothers were Californians, born to German immigrant parents who had arrived in the 1850's[2]. The "Sunsweet Story" refers to them as "the most successful of the speculative packers"[3], commenting on their business model of buying fruit and hoping it would sell for more when actually sold.

The company had packing houses in the Santa Clara Valley, Oregon, the Sacramento Valley, and San Joaquin Valley, and bought and sold several kinds of dried fruits. A 1911 ad in California Fruit News shows they packed dried fruit and raisins. Rosenberg also pioneered the idea of mail-order fruit gift giving[4]. Rosenberg Brothers also entered the bean market in 1917[5].

In 1930, the company was the largest shipper of dried fruit in the world. With Oakland's encouragement, the company placed their primary shipping point on the docks at Oakland, and promised to ship 50,000 tons of fruit a year from the new warehouses[6].

The last of the original brothers died in 1931; Arthur C. Oppenheimer, an early employee and husband of Max Rosenberg's niece, ran the company for many years[7] but died in 1950.[8]. The company survived independently until December 1947 when it was bought by a Consolidated Grocers Corp. of Chicago[9]. Rosenberg stayed as a separate company but a subsidiary of Consolidated Grocers, while United States Products, a San Jose canner, became part of the canning arm and lost its independent name[10]. Oppenheimer's son-in-law, Clarence C. Kane, was president of sales from 1950 through 1954 when he resigned in a management shake-up[11]. (Kane later ran San Francisco Sourdough, makers of Parisian sourdough bread[12].)

Rosenberg Brothers finally went out of business in 1957. Mayfair Packing bought the dried fruit and walnut operations, Bonner Packing bought the raisin business, and Trico bought Rosenberg's almond business.

Rosenberg Brothers was a particularly strong competitor:[13]

"Oppenheimer was generally regarded as sort of a genius among the proprietary packers. Unquestionably, he was the most successful of the speculative packers, and he was similarly successful in the other commodity fields in which the Rosenberg firm specialized: tree nuts, rice, beans, and honey. In the case of dried fruits, his practice was to circulate propaganda in the orchard districts, mainly through his buyer-fieldmen, to convince growers that economic conditions at the time would justify only a low field price. He frequently succeeded in depressing the field market, when he would buy all of the fruit his firm required. He would then get the packers together to elicit their support of some kind of a scheme he had devised to strengthen the market for packed goods. He succeeded remarkably, usually remaining personally in the background of these activities, but often persuading the other packers to fall into line and to address grower meetings and otherwise to convince growers that they were doing all they could for the growers. It was common knowledge in the dried fruit industry that at one period, Rosenberg Bros. and Company accumulated supplies from three successive crops before a favorable wholesale market developed that enabled the firm to make its speculation pay off handsomely. The object of all this, of course, was to buy low and sell high."

Rudolph Peterson, in a Bancroft Library oral history[14], recounted a story where Rosenberg Brothers came to Bank of America for a line of credit to support buying grapes during the season. Ralph Heaton, the Bank of America employee, asked them about potential prices and refused to provide the line of credit when the intended prices would be less than the cost of production. After negotiation, Rosenberg Brothers agreed to raise their intended raisin prices to support the farmers while ensuring a profit for themselves.

Company History

The company started in 1893 with Adolph Rosenberg, the oldest of the brothers. Adolph had been working as a buyer of fresh fruit for fruit sellers in Los Angeles, Portland, and Vancouver Washington, but saw opportunities in the newly forming dried fruit business. Adolph quickly convinced his brothers to join the new venture, with each taking a separate role in the company. Adolph was "the idea man". His brother Abraham had been the bookkeeper for a shoe wholesaler, and took on the financial and policy side of the business, and also took trips to Europe to open new markets. Max, the youngest, was the buyer and the trader. Their first office on California Street in San Francisco, in a cubicle at the back of Norton, Teller, and Rodden, a butter and egg wholesaler[15]. The company's first processing plant went into a space above L. Scatena's fresh fruit warehouse on Washington Street. (The company history notes that A. P. Giannini clerked downstairs for Scatena.) A fig processing plant opened in Yuba City in 1898, followed by Santa Clara (for prunes) and Fresno for raisins.

As the business moved, they kept an egalitarian atmosphere. All three brothers shared the responsibility and credit equally. Everyone from executives to stenographers in shared areas, and no special perks for management. The brothers distributed large bonuses for all workers to share the profits in good years; the bonuses were often larger than the year's dividends to stockholders; in bad years, "Mr. Abe" would personally talk with each employee to explain why the year had been bad. The company did not have layoffs during the Great Depression, and by 1943, many employees were 15 or 20 year veterans. The brothers died by the early 1930's; Adolph passed away in 1923 while on a business trip in Switzerland[16], Abe in 1929, and Max in 1931. The company was then run by Arthur Oppenheimer, an early employee who worked his way up the ranks. The company history includes stories of Oppenheimer's devotion to the company; he had rescued the company records from the office after the 1906 earthquake, and searched a junkyards for a makeshift water nozzle to soak the warehouse as the fire approached.

Max, the last brother, died in 1931. His share of the company went to the Rosenberg Foundation, a San Francisco charity tasked with supporting new causes, often supporting new programs for health, education, and social justice, especially for rural areas of California. The first grants included support for farmworkers, research into Valley Fever, and better training for day care providers[17][18].

Rosenberg Brothers in San Jose

Rosenberg Brothers had a long-time presence in the San Jose and Santa Clara area, moving between packing houses many times.

An early location was on Ryland Street, at the west end of the street in a former C. M. Webber warehouse. Rosenberg's building had significant machinery and even had overhead shafting to power some equipment[19]. A fire on morning of November 10, 1906 burned that plant to the ground[20]. George Hyde was the manager. The night watchman was feared burned, but he turned out to be safe as he'd been at home sick for several nights[21] The fire burned several thousand tons of prunes - 50 freight cars worth. 11 full cars burned, and two warehouses; the fire was encouraged by 5000 gallons of crude oil[22]. The building itself supposedly belonged to Mrs. J. C. Webber of Chicago.

The Ryland Street fire chased Rosenberg Brothers away, both north of downtown to Stockton Ave.[23] and to the west side of San Jose. Their new plant was in the former Santa Clara Valley Fruit Exchange on the northwest corner of Auzerais and Sunol St., with Orrin Harlan as manager in 1908. There was a lumberyard was across Sunol Street, and Standard Oil across the railroad tracks[24].

Another fire on August 7, 1915 destroyed the Sunol Street plant[25]. The manager at the time was H. M. Barngrover. Rosenberg Brothers had been located in the Santa Clara Valley Fruit Exchange warehouse, a large brick building with multiple firewalls. Rosenberg was leasing; lost "many dried apricots and some prunes". The loss to the firm at $300,000. The fire started in pile of apricot pits near the tracks. 5000 gallons of fuel oil still burning in the tank at noon the next day. Fire was blamed on IWW, supposedly threats had been made[26]. Later news reports blamed an International Workers of the World supporter, according to October 2, 1915 Sausalito News.

After the Sunol St. fire, Rosenberg Brothers took over the former California Cured Fruit Association warehouse next to the Santa Clara depot in 1916[27].

The company bought H.E. Losse and Company in 1917.

Details of a 1921 lawsuit over farmer who did not deliver contracted prunes[28].

Rosenberg Brothers in Hayward

Rosenberg Brothers may also have had an outpost in Hayward, California. A biography of Manuel Oliveira[29] notes that Mr. Oliveira bought and dried fruit for both Rosenberg Brothers and F. E. Booth of Centerville.

Locations

Location Years Address Details
Biggs, CA 1943 South of Chico. Mentioned in "Years Mature." Probably rice mill.
Brentwood 1943 Mentioned in "Years Mature"
Dallas, Oregon 1943 Mentioned in "Years Mature"
Dinuba 1934 140 North N St (now Urapan Way)[30]
Edenvale 1922 "One mile away from Richmond Chase plant at Edenvale station"[31] Receiving station
Emeryville 1922- 1500 Park Ave. between Hubbard and Hillock Built in 1922-1926.[32]. Became Emeryville Warehouse, and one of the early loft conversions in the Emeryville area.
Figarden 1943 Mentioned in "Years Mature"
Fresno 1918, 1940, 1943 Mono St. at G St.[33] Multiple buildings.
Fresno 1922, 1947 Broadway Street at Cherry Ave. "New plant". Largest raisin packing operation in world in 1920's[34].
Modesto 1943 Mentioned in "Years Mature"
Medford Medford: Spur historically named after Rosenberg Brothers on topoquest.com (Same as Talent, Oregon site in 1943 Years Mature history?)
Oakland 1937, 1943 Foot of West 14th St.[35]. Apparently built in the early 1930's in order to export 50,000 tons of fruit[36].
Orange, CA 1943 Mentioned in "Years Mature"
Portland, Oregon 1943 Mentioned in "Years Mature"
Riddle, Oregon 1943 Mentioned in "Years Mature". Between Grants Pass and Roseburg.
San Francisco 1906 211-213 California Street Burned in 1906 earthquake[37] Arthur Oppenheimer broke into the building through a neighboring building's coal chute to rescue company records after the earthquake[38].
San Francisco 1912 153 California Street
San Francisco 1905 - 1950's 275 Brannan St. Warehouse.[39][40]. Building survived 1906 earthquakeArthur Oppenheimer broke into the building through a neighboring building's coal chute to rescue company records after the earthquake[41].
San Francisco 1921 Ramkin St. Rice mill[42].
San Jose 1906 Ryland Street near San Pedro St. Burned Nov. 10, 1906.
San Jose 1907 West San Carlos St.[43] Former Luehning packing house[44].
San Jose 1907-1915 Sunol Street at Auzerais St. Northwest corner. Burned August 1915[45].
Santa Clara 1917, 1927, 1943 Railroad Avenue West of railroad depot. Also cannery[46]. Originally built for the prune trade[47].
Sebastopol 1943 Mentioned in "Years Mature". Map in book suggests many drop-off sites in Sonoma County.
Talent, Oregon
Winters, CA 1951 Main St.[48]
Yuba City 1899, 1943-[49] Originally built as fig packing plant around 1898[50].

Photos

Rosenberg Brothers packing house, Yuba City. From U.C. Libraries.

Rosenberg Brothers packing house near Medford, Oregon.

References

  1. Pacific Service Magazine, October 1926.
  2. History of the Rosenberg Foundation
  3. Robert Couchman, The Sunsweet Story, 1967, Sunsweet Growers
  4. Harry and David: Bear Creek Orchards: Oregon Encyclopedia. "When fruit prices plummeted during the Great Depression, the Rosenberg brothers promoted their Royal Riviera pears in San Francisco and elsewhere by developing the idea of mail-order gift-giving."
  5. Big New Factor in the Bean Business: May 24, 1917 California Fruit News
  6. Mel Scott, The San Francisco Bay Area: A Metropolis in Perspective. University of California Press, 1959.
  7. Changes in Rosenberg Brothers: January 12, 1948 New York Times. "Arthur C. Oppenheimer, who will continue as general manager, has been elected chairman of the board... Nathan Cummings, chairman of the board of Consolidated Grocers Corporation has been made president, Arthur C. Oppenheimer 2nd has been made executive vice president."
  8. The Sunsweet Story
  9. Sunsweet Story describes it as "major postwar change in independent packer ownership"
  10. New York Times, May 25, 1951
  11. Hillsborough Man Heads Board: December 3, 1954 San Mateo Times.
  12. Clarence C. Kane: June 3, 2001 San Francisco Chronicle.
  13. Robert Couchman, The Sunsweet Story, 1967, Sunsweet Growers.
  14. Rudolph Peterson, A career in international banking with the Bank of America, 1936-1970, and the United Nations Development Program, 1971-1975, Bancroft Library. Regional Oral History Office, 1992.
  15. Years Mature (History of Rosenberg Brothers). 1943, Rosenberg Brothers, San Francisco.
  16. Obituary: Adolph Rosenberg. In April 1923 Western Canner and Packer. "Word was received in San Francisco, March 26, that Adolph Rosenberg of Rosenberg Brothers & Co., the well-known dried fruit firm, passed away in Switzerland on that day. Mr. Rosenberg died after a few days' illness from pneumonia. Mr. Rosenberg is survived by two brothers, Abraham Rosenberg, head of the firm of Rosenberg Bros. & Co, and Max I. Rosenberg. He was 55 years of age and was born in Calaveras county in this State. A number of years ago, the three brothers engaged in the development of Rosenberg Bros & Co. dealers in dried fruits, later becoming also very extensive handlers of rice. The firm is among the largest of the dried fruit packers, and the late Adolph Rosenberg was the founder of the business. He has not been active in the firm for a number of years, however, having been for some years in poor health."
  17. Years Mature (History of Rosenberg Brothers). 1943, Rosenberg Brothers, San Francisco.
  18. Rosenberg Foundation website. "Founded by a bequest from Max Rosenberg, first foundation west of Chicago to hire a professional staff; first grants went to support reproductive rights for migrant farmworker women in the Central Valley, research into Valley Fever and Sylvatic Plague, and grants to advance "inter-cultural relations".
  19. Hair Caught In Moving Shafting: September 19, 1905 San Jose Evening News
  20. San Jose Visited by the Most Damaging Fire In Its History: November 11, 1906 Sunday Mercury and Herald. The underground tank stored a "tank car of oil".
  21. San Jose Evening News, November 10, 1906
  22. November 11, 1915 Los Angeles Herald.
  23. March 5, 1907: San Jose Evening News: Rosenberg Brothers have bought a lot on Stockton Ave
  24. $350,000 Fire Destroys Packing House: August 7, 1915 San Jose Evening News report on fire in 1915
  25. $350,000 Fire Destroys Packing House: August 7, 1915 San Jose Evening News.
  26. Rosenberg Co. Plant Is Burned: August 8, 1915 San Jose Mercury News
  27. Santa Clara city history.
  28. Fruit Contract Decision Trial: March 26, 1921 Pacific Rural Press.
  29. Manuel Oliveira: History of Alameda County, 1928, S. J. Clarke Publishing
  30. 1934 Visalia City Directory
  31. Other Growing Towns in Santa Clara County: History of Santa Clara County history, 1922
  32. Oakland Sanborn map. 1912-1951, v.3, p. 325.
  33. Fresno Chinatown map. From Japantown Atlas.
  34. John Reynolds and Michael J. Semas, Fresno, Arcadia Publishing, 20xx.
  35. Fruit Buyers, Packers, and Shippers: 1937 Oakland City Directory.
  36. Mel Scott, The San Francisco Bay Area: A Metropolis in Perspective. University of California Press, 1959.
  37. Lawsuit over building mentioned in January 1907 San Francisco Call .
  38. Years Mature (History of Rosenberg Brothers). 1943, Rosenberg Brothers, San Francisco.
  39. History of Rincon Hill
  40. Paul A. Lord Jr., South End Historical District Case Report, February 5, 1990, San Francisco Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board
  41. Years Mature (History of Rosenberg Brothers). 1943, Rosenberg Brothers, San Francisco.
  42. Rice mill damaged: October 21, 1921 California Grocer's Advocate.
  43. 1907-8 San Jose city directory lists location as "West San Carlos St. 1 west of Los Gatos Creek."
  44. San Jose Visited by the Most Damaging Fire In Its History: November 11, 1906 Sunday Mercury and Herald. "The first of this year, they leased the Luehning warehouse at San Carlos and the narrow gauge, and today arrangements were made to transfer all business of the destroyed plant to that place."
  45. Rosenberg Co. Plant Is Burned: August 8, 1915 San Jose Mercury News
  46. California Canneries: November 1916 Western Canner and Packer.
  47. Years Mature (History of Rosenberg Brothers). 1943, Rosenberg Brothers, San Francisco.
  48. Southern Pacific engineering drawing W-1811, Winters Proposed Section Quarters, July 2, 1951. From wx4.org / Dome of Foam.
  49. New Fruit Packing House: April 28, 1899 San Francisco Call.
  50. Years Mature (History of Rosenberg Brothers). 1943, Rosenberg Brothers, San Francisco.