United States Products

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Summary
Business

Cannery
Main Location

San Jose, CA
Active

1922-
Brands

Countess[1], Three Star[2].
U.S. Products cannery, Race St., 1920's

United States Products was an independent San Jose cannery founded in 1921.

The company was founded on June 15, 1921 in San Francisco. Directors were B. C. Wallace, William Hoffman, Alden Ames, L. C. Bellani, and R. Mignacco. All were from San Francisco, except for Hoffman who was from Oakland. 5000 shares were declared, 2,000 preferred, and 3,000 common. Only one share was allotted to each director. By 1927, when the company officially moved its offices from San Francisco to San Jose, shareholders were D. C. Kok (president, 1636 shares), William Neuroth (one share), Franklin (one share), and E. Avila (secretary, one share). By 1940, when the articles of corporation were amended, the owners were listed as Arthur J. McChrystal and William Klassen[3]

When the company appeared in the news in 1922, it was described as run by Vlessing, a major Dutch conglomerate based in the Hague, in January 1922[4][5]. USP was personally operated by D. C. Kok, president of Viessing[6], and his sons Albert and Dick, with William Neuroth, a former fruit buyer. USP's production was probably intended for consumption in Europe (much like the Ainsley Cannery in Campbell was selling to England). The superintendent of the cannery in 1922 was George Pyle (former owner of the J.F. Pyle Cannery, and superintendent of the dried fruit plant was George Holmes[7]. Planning to can 800 tons of apricots grown in the Santa Clara and San Joaquin Valleys, 500 tons of peaches, 500 tons of pears, 2000 tons of apples, 500 tons of prunes, and 1000 tons of pumpkin. The entire output would be sold in Europe. The company bragged that it had a "special drying method"[8] It's hard to tell whether Kok and Vlessing funded the cannery from the beginning, or if they bought a failing cannery project in 1922.

U.S. Product's main building in San Jose was monolithic, large, and looming. In 1928, unknown persons tried to burn the plant down[9]. The current Western Appliance warehouse on opposite side of Race Street dates from cannery times.

Neuroth, the general manager, died on July 2, 1940[10]. Neuroth had been a fruit buyer but later was associated with D. C. Kok Sr. in organization of United States Products corporation.

Dick Cornelius Kok married Dorothy Heller in Reno on January 25, 1942[11]

U.S. Products went bankrupt in 1943[12]. Initial plans were for a midwestern backer to run the cannery[13]. The trustee leased the cannery to the Schuckl Cannery[14]; a lawsuit the next year challenged the trustee for leasing the property rather than keeping it as a going concern[15]. The plant was leased to the Clapp Baby Food company in 1944 and 1945.

Carl Lovegren operated the cannery in in the late 1940's, but died in 1950[16]. In 1951, it transferred to Consolidated Grocers[17]. (Consolidated Grocers also owned Rosenberg Brothers, a dried fruit packer.) By 1961, the owner was referred to as Consolidated Foods, with Paul Rea as the president succeeding the late Fred M. Drew[18]. The company canned under the "Three Star" brand starting in 1954[19]. The company also had a private cold storage for apples in 1962[20]. The cannery was bought by National Can in 1971[21], and supposedly Consoldidated Foods in 1972. It became part of Glorietta Foods in the late 1970's, then went to Tri-Valley Growers who shut the plant down and sold the land for development.

Around the San Jose Cannery

United States Products generated more than a usual number of stories about its heyday. Leonard McKay, a local San Jose historian, shared memories of the plant during World War II[22]. McKay worked as an office helper during the 1941 season, and remembers college kids with hand trucks carting fruit around. He also remember the green tinted jars used by the company. At the same time, a Judge Del Mutolo spent the summer of 1943 as a checker[23]. "He works a 10 or 11 hour shift as checker, and will work one more week before his vacation ends. 'It's good work, but I find I have to take some time to answer legal questions. Since other workers found I was working in the cannery, there have been lots of inquiries about questions of law.' ". Others remember the company canning water for soldier's rations during the Vietnam War.

Across the street was the Kerosene club, a music and comedy venue where the Smothers Brothers got their start. The club started in 1950's, and was at times a beatnik, jazz, and San Jose State student hangout[24].

United States Products in Salem

U.S. Products also operated a cannery in Salem. The Salem plant had been King's Products Company 1917-1927, Reid Murdock & Company from 1929 on, United States Producers from 1973 to 1975, and Truitt Brothers recently.[25]


Locations

Location Years Address Details
Salem 1945 1105 North Front Street
San Jose 1924, 1943, 1962 570 Race Street Also described as "Race and Moorpark, San Jose".

Photos

U.S. Products staff

John C. Gordon photo of front, http://digitalcollections.sjlibrary.org/cdm/ref/collection/gordon/id/1337.

Salem Cannery: photo

Salem Cannery: photo

References

  1. Countess brand: trade.mar.cx.
  2. Owned by U.S. Products, registered April 5, 1954 at Race Street address, later taken by Tri-Valley Growers.
  3. United States Products: articles of incorporation and amendments. California Secretary of State. In California State Archives.
  4. Vlessing & Co. Advertisement: International Trade Developer, p. 1102, 1922. Address of the headquarters was Vlessing & Co, Javastraat 1,The Hague (Holland). The company billed itself as "Importers of metals, phosphates, foodstuffs, machinery and motor cars, general merchandise, and agricultural implements." On the food side, they exported macaroni, vermicelli, and oatmeal. "Sole contractors for America for Caucasian Manganese and Manganese Peroxyd"; Telegrams: BEM The Hague. Codes used: A.B.C., 5th Edition; Scott's, 10th Edition, Western Union, 5-letter edition.
  5. Vlessing supposedly sold the Soviet Union oil during the 1920's. Sutton, Western Techology and Soviet Economic Development.
  6. July 31, 1922 San Jose Evening News. "This company has food processing plants all across the world."
  7. New Cannery Is Inspected: July 16, 1922 San Jose Mercury Herald.
  8. July 31, 1922 San Jose Evening News.
  9. New Attempt to Burn Cannery Being Probed: December 11, 1928 San Jose Evening News. The attractive Miss Anne Kmetovich of the United Products Company showed off the damage in a photo on the front page.
  10. Funeral Held for Canner: July 2, 1940 San Jose Evening News.
  11. January 25, 1942 Santa Cruz Sentinel.
  12. June 5, 1943 San Jose Evening News
  13. Operation of Big Cannery to Continue: June 4, 1943 San Jose Evening News. "Voluntary bankruptcy proceedings...will not interfere with the cannery's operation this year.... a mocky mountain and midwestern capitalist, R. B. Pringle of Denver, Colo., is now financing cannery operations."
  14. Judge Works In Cannery: August 28, 1943 San Jose News. "Already Judge Del Mutolo has worked two weeks at the old United States Products plant on Race Street, now operated by Schuckl's of Sunnyvale."
  15. In re United States Products Corporation Ltd., 57 F.Supp 239 (1944), District Court, Northern District of California, September 22, 1944.
  16. Lovegren was found dead in his car in a residential district of San Jose on Nov. 1, 1950 acc. to Deseret News Nov 2. 1950. ""Change in ownership was completed by acquisition of virtually all outstanding securities, principally owned by the Lawrence Investment Corporation and the estate of Carl N. Lovegren, present until his death on Nov. 1."
  17. January 19, 1951 New York Times. "Canning Company Sold: Consolidated Grocers Acquires California Concern. CHICAGO, Jan 18, The Consolidated Grocers Corporation reported today the purchase of United States Products Corporation Ltd. San Jose Calif which is a canner of fruits and vegetables.
  18. September 10, 1961 New York Times: "Paul V. Rea has been elected president of the United States Products Corporation, San Jose Calif. canning unit of the Consolidated Foods Corporation, it was announced. He succeeds the late Fred M. Drew. Mr. Rea was formerly executive vice president of United States Products." Drew had been the owner of the Drew Canning Company.
  19. Owned by U.S. Products, registered April 5, 1954 at Race Street address, later taken by Tri-Valley Growers.
  20. List of refrigerated storage plants, 1962.
  21. July 9, 1971 Modesto Bee article about farmer who no longer had outlet for his crop
  22. Leonard McKay's memories of working at USP: San Jose Inside.
  23. Judge Works In Cannery: August 28, 1943 San Jose News.
  24. Fool Time: Mertroactive Magazine. "The Smothers Brothers are usually said to have gotten their start in San Francisco, but that's not exactly true. Before they broke into clubs there in the late '50s, they cut their teeth performing in San Jose. Tom was going to San Jose State, and Dick came up from Southern California to join him. "Across from U.S. Products on Race Street in San Jose was this place called the Kerosene Club," Tom says. 'We'd go sing on Fridays and Saturdays.".
  25. Cannery History: Salem History Society.