Ainsley Cannery

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Main Location

Campbell, CA


Pansy, Mikado, Ainsley's, J.C. Brand, Colden Morn, Foxglove, Campbell, Tartan, Spartan, Dreamland, Claravale, Edenvale, Beryl

Drew Canning Company, Hunt Brothers Packing Company
Ainsley Cannery, circa 1900, Alice Iola O'Hare photo

The Ainsley Cannery was a long-lived cannery in Campbell California founded by John Colpitts Ainsley, a British immigrant. Ainsley worked with family to preserve fruit in California for export and sale in Britain, with production starting at 1,000 cases in 1891. Ainsley's cannery did significant export business throughout its lifetime, though it reported that its usual 95% export to Britain was interrupted in 1918. In 1902, they billed themselves as "packers of selected California Fruit". The company incorporated in 1908[1]. In 1920, J.C. Ainsley was president, and E. Swope, secretary[2]

The Ainsley cannery as along the railroad tracks north of Campbell Avenue, and was an obvious landmark when approaching the town from the east.

The cannery expanded and modernized over the years, with new canning equipment arriving in 1918[3]. In the 1918 season, the company canned 5.5 million cans of fruit. To produce that magnitude, $300,000 of fruit and $40,000 (5,000 bags) of sugar, and $120,000 of cans. Waghes and salaries were over $100,000[4] A warehouse on the east side of the railroad tracks was build in 1919, with additional outside storage rented in the previous several years[5]. The payroll in 1919 was 500 people.

Even as late as 1922, Ainsley was still canning in its premium glass jars[6].

Ainsley trucked apricot pits from the cannery; a 1923 news article describes an accident where the Ainsley truck crossed the railroad tracks after a freight train, but failed to notice the southbound passenger train behind it. "The truck was loaded with apricot pits which were destined for cracking and chemical reduction into oil, dyestuffs, and charcoal."[7]

The cannery was supposedly closed between 1931 and 1934[8]. However, the local newspaper reported its on its imminent reopening in 1932[9], declaring the cannery was starting its pack of 1932 apricots on Friday, July 1, followed by pears and peaches, "all of which will come from the Santa Clara Valley... On account of the depressed business conditions throughout the world, the run this year, as is the case with all other canneries, will be considerably lighter than usual. It is not the intention to open the camp and as far as possible preference of employment will be given to those who have worked there during previous seasons, and to local residents." Another article in August stated that the Ainsley cannery "reopens today when Ainsley's packing company starts production, the cannery will be in production until about the first of September working on peaches and pears."[10]

The cannery was sold to the Drew Canning Company in March 1934; some reports say $200,000, but the official records claim that the sale was completed on March 13, 1934 for $150,000. At the time of the closure, John Colpitts Ainsley was president, with W. H. Lloyd as secretary. The cannery property included 470 feet of frontage on Harrison Street, and 52 feet on Campbell Ave[11]. Ainsley had previously transferred the cannery from the "Ainsley Packing to the "Ainsley Corporation" in December 1933[12]. Ainsley apparently had a deed of trust on part of the Security Warehouse and Cold Storage[13].

The "Ainsley Corporation" was still operating in Campbell as late as 1939 when the corporation requested a camp permit for its workers[14].

Mrs. Margaret Murdock, who had run the cannery's cafeteria for eight years before the 1931 closing, regained control of the cafeteria in 1934[15]. Drew later sold the plant to Hunt Brothers Packing Company in 1946. Railfans remember small 0-6-0 switchers shuffling boxcars at the canneries in the 1940's[16].

The buildings of the Ainsley cannery were starting to be torn down by the 1960's[17].


Location Years Address Details
Campbell, CA 1894-1934 Harrison Ave north of Campbell Avenue
Mayfield 1918 Maraschino cherry plant[18]


Campbell downtown Pomona Public Library

Ainsley Packing Co. Alice Iola Hare Photograph Collection, Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley


1895: August 9, 1895 San Francisco Call notes that Ainsley cannery just completed canning 200,000 cans of apricots. Should also put up 75,000 cans of peaches, 120,000 cans of pears.

1895: December 23, 1895 San Francisco Call notes Ainsley shipped six carloads of fruit to San Francisco for shipment to London in the previous week, and oputput is double that of last year.

August 13, 1898 Pacific Rural Press: Santa Clara. Ainsley Cannery.—Campbell Visitor, Aug. 7: The Ainsley cannery started again yesterday. It has haudled about 400 tons of apricots this year, which is about double the amount of last year. Owing to the high price few peaches will be canned. The English market calls for about 40 per cent pears, 40 per cent apricots and 20 per cent peaches, while the American market will run about 50 per cent peaches, 25 per cent apricots and 25 per cent pears. Mr. Ainsley has contracted for 450 tons of pears, and altogether the cannery will probably double the business it did last year.


  1. Campbell's Canneries Prepare for Big Season. May 23, 1919 Campbell Interurban.
  2. J.C. Ainsley Packing Co: California Food Products directory. 1920, A. Marks, San Francisco.
  3. California Canneries: August 1918 Western Canner and Packer.
  4. Campbell's Canneries Prepare for Big Season. May 23, 1919 Campbell Interurban. "The J. C. Ainsley Packing Co., the oldest and largest of Campbell's canneries, was established in 1891 and was incorporated in 1908. In the year 1891 the output of this cannery was 250,000 cans. In 1918 it amounted to upwards of 5 1/2 millions. The cans alone cost nearly $120,000 while the raw fruit, of which they used over 300,000 tons, was valued at more than $300,000. Over 5,000 bags of sugar were used, costing approximately $40,000. The total of wages and salaries paid last year was over $100,000 During the busy months the weekly payroll amounted to more than $10,000. Previous to the war about 95 per cent of the output of the plant was shipped to England. During the war the export sales were of course greatly reduced, but this reduction was more than offset by the increase in domestic and Government orders. This year they anticipate the best and busiest season in the history of the company."
  5. Proud of our Progressive Packer. July 25, 1919 Campbell Interurban. "The biggest packing concern and one that is just cause for community pride in this part of the valley is the J. C. Ainsley Packing Co. Under the direct supervision and direction of Mr Ainsley the business has grown from a small building on Santa Clara road in 1891 to one of the best and most modern canneries in the Santa Clara valley. Mr. Ainsley has made enlargements and added improvements almost every year since the small beginning until the plant now occupies all the track space between Campbell and Foote avenues and all the block except two residences. A large storage warehouse has been built on the east side of the S.P. track and for the past few season it has been necessary to rent outside storage. The cutting and packing departments have been enlarged to almost double last year's' capacity and new automatic capping machines have been added in the cooking department where also new cookers have been installed. The main warehouse has been doubled in capacity and indications now point to a still broader expansion of every department of the plant in the near future. A new modern peeler and sorter is being installed to take care of this season's fruit which is due next week. Mr. Ainsley recently purchased several lots on the west side of Harrison avenue including the Coffee Club where he conducts and employee cafeteria that the help may get their meals at cost. A well attended kindergarten is conducted at the welfare and rest room with an ideal play ground on the lot. The payroll, the largest in our community, runs near the 500 mark bringing in a number of outside workers during the busy season. The Ainsley cannery enjoys a long season making a post-season pack of fancy salad for export trade. Such an institution is the support and livelihood of many of our good tonwspeople who in turn are proud of its growth and product. Mr. Ainsley himself always to the front in civic improvement and progress is ever watchful for the welfare of his help and has made for himself many staunch supporters among the fruit workers.
  6. December 1922 Western Canner and Packer. Declared Ainsley as selling fruit salad in 24 oz glass jars, FOB Cannery. $8/case.
  7. Workers Have Narrow Escape in Bad Crash: July 27, 1923 San Jose Evening News.
  8. Probably Campbell Interurban Press article on the Drew purchase in 1934
  9. June 30, 1932 Campbell Interurban Press.
  10. August 4, 1932 Campbell Interurban Press.
  11. Santa Clara County Deeds, book 675, pg. 554. Any unpaid sales price requiring interest at 5% a year.
  12. Santa Clara County deeds, book 670, pg. 321, December 27, 1933.
  13. Santa Clara County deeds, book 669, pg 387, dated July 1, 1928.
  14. Contract on Road Let By Board: July 17, 1939 San Jose Evening News. "Application of the Ainsley Corporation of campbell for a camp permit for its cannery employees was granted."
  15. Probably 1934 Campbell Interurban Press.
  16. Postings on train
  17. Aerial photo of Campbell in 1960's. From February 2015 Les Amis de Sourisseau newsletter. The same issue features a photo of the Ainsley cannery during the 1911 floods.
  18. California Canneries: May 1917 Western Canner and Packer. "The Mayfield cannery of the J. C. Ainsley Company commenced operations on cherries during the first week of June. A large pack is expected."