Utah’s commercial canning industry dates back to the late 1880s and peaked during the 1920s and 1930s, declining in the late 1950s. The canning industry in Utah was mainly centered in Weber, Davis, and Cache counties, and to a lesser degree in Box Elder, Utah, and Salt Lake counties. Although Utah’s canneries produced many different kinds of canned vegetables and fruits, by far the most numerous and highly reputed were tomatoes and peas, grown mostly in Weber, Davis, and Cache counties. These three counties led the state in numbers of canneries, with well over two-thirds of the state’s total.
The canning industry, along with the flour rolling mill, sugar beet, and dairy industries, formed the cornerstones of Utah’s agricultural community. As happened with the sugar beet industry, the state’s canning business had to struggle to get started because canning factories had to convince the local farmers that growing products for sale to the factories would be a money-making venture. The early canning companies also had some difficulty in selling their finished product–consumers had not fully accepted food preserved in cans rather than in bottles.
The technology of preserving food in cans was first widely used during the Civil War. The pressure cooker became available in 1847 and allowed better control of temperatures while the food was being cooked. By 1870 there were about 6,000 persons employed nationwide in almost 100 canning factories. By 1890 those numbers had grown to 50,000 persons working in 1,800 factories.
The canning industry in Utah started in Ogden in 1886 with the formation of the Colorado-Utah Canning Company by Alexander McKinney and Robert Lundy in a former pickle works. The Colorado-Utah Canning Company was dissolved in 1887, but the enterprise proved to Utahns that the preservation of food in cans worked. McKinney and Lundy parted company, and each started his own canning venture. McKinney started the Ogden Canning Company. After the harvest of 1899, having been in business for two years, McKinney moved his Ogden Canning Company north of the Ogden River, with the company remaining in business until McKinney died in October 1902. For the fifteen years that the company was in business its products included canned tomatoes, ketchup, peas, corn, pumpkins, string beans, plums, apples, pears, berries, and peaches. The company produced quality canned vegetables and fruits that were shipped all over the country and helped build a reputation for the quality of the Utah’s canned products.
McKinney’s former partner, Robert Lundy, started the Utah Canning Company at the location of the original company. Lundy had only been in business for a year when, in 1889, Isaac N. Pierce became part of the company. The Utah Canning Company used Pierce’s name on the label of the canned pork and beans that the company produced. The pork and beans label and the recipe itself have remained unchanged for more than 100 years.
The Utah Canning Company was reorganized in 1897 under the control of some of Ogden’s more prominent citizens, including Thomas Dee and David Eccles. Isaac Pierce remained as manager, and under his guidance the company developed methods for processing foods that kept it in the forefront of the commercial canning industry in the West, and helped keep the company in the commercial canning field longer than any other company in the state. The Utah Canning Company’s success came because they were able to stay in the canning business all year around, rather than being part of a seasonal industry as were many other canners. The company remained in the canning business in Ogden until 1972 when the cannery was closed.
With the early success of the Utah Canning Company, other canneries soon joined in, producing their own products. Included in these early canning companies was the Morgan Canning Company, remembered for “Those Good Peas”–the brand name of their canned peas. The Morgan Canning Company began business in Morgan in 1908 and expanded in 1920 with a factory in Cache Valley, in the town of Smithfield. The company was sold to the Utah Packing Corporation in the spring of 1928 and the factory in Smithfield, now owned by the Del Monte Corporation, remains today as the last location for commercial canning in the state of Utah. The sale of the Morgan Canning Company to the Utah Packing Corporation was the final stage of expansion of the largest Utah commercial canning enterprises. The Utah Packing Corporation was organized in 1918 as a subsidiary of the California Packing Corporation, which itself was the result of a 1916 consolidation of a number of canneries in California. Most people know the California Packing Corporation by one of its labels, Del Monte, which the corporation took as its formal name in 1967.
By 1924 the Utah Packing Corporation had become the largest operator of canning factories in the state. The basis for the company’s operations were the five canneries operated by William J. (Jake) Parker, who has been called the father of Utah canning. In March 1917 he organized his five canneries as the Utah Packing Company.
Two other men, the father and son team of Nephi Preston Hardy and Nephi Edwin Hardy, were also important figures in Utah canning. Hardy and his son were responsible for the construction of four of the early commercial canning factories in Utah: the two early factories in Hooper and the first of four factories in Roy, and the factory in Spanish Fork. All of this construction had taken place by 1907 when his son, Nephi Edwin Hardy, died.
Nephi Preston Hardy taught the basics of food processing and canning to his son when he started the second canning enterprise in the state, by processing tomatoes on his own farm in Hooper as early as 1892. His first plant was destroyed by a fire, but Hardy started over again and by 1897 he and others, including Jake Parker, had built a larger factory in Hooper. This second factory also ended in a fire that consumed it in mid-season; but the factory was rebuilt and Hardy was able to finish out the season. Hardy and Parker then decided to build a more substantial, fireproof factory.
This time the factory was located in Roy, close to the railroad tracks to allow direct shipment of their finished products by rail. This cannery was the first of four that would be located in Roy. Nephi Preston Hardy ran this first cannery in Roy until he retired in 1915, at which time he sold the enterprise to William W. Craig, who was operating another cannery in Ogden. Hardy died in 1920 at the age of 76.
After the successful completion of the Roy cannery in 1898, the Hardys gained a reputation as good cannery men and were soon called on to build other factories. Nephi Edwin Hardy had managed his father’s factory in Roy until 1905, when he began work on a new cannery to be built in Spanish Fork. He had been there for about two years when he contracted spinal meningitis and died, leaving behind five orphaned children.
Another of the pioneer canning companies was the Woods Cross Canning Company– Utah’s second largest commercial cannery. The Woods Cross brand of canned tomatoes is still available today in local stores. The company started in 1892 as the Woods Cross Canning and Pickling Company; their processing plant was located in Woods Cross. In 1902 the owners expanded with a plant in Clearfield, the Clearfield Canning Company, and in 1903 they expanded again with the Layton Canning Company, located naturally enough in Layton, also in Davis County. With the continued growth of the canning industry, by 1912 the company found itself as one of the strongest in the industry in Utah. As the industry began declining in the mid-1950s, the Woods Cross plant was closed. The company’s Layton plant was in business until 1954 when the factory was dismantled, although the warehouse remains standing today as a church recreation hall. The Clearfield plant remained as the last operation of the company, keeping its doors open until 1975.
One of the earliest canning enterprises within the state was the Syracuse Canning Company, located in Syracuse in Davis County and organized in 1893 but operated on a local farm until permanent quarters were completed in 1898. In 1902 the company expanded its operation and increased the size of its factory. In 1918 the company was sold to the Kaysville Canning Company, and in 1945 the cannery was closed.
The second of the two canning factories located in Syracuse, best known as the Kaysville Canning Company, began as a cannery of the John R. Barnes Company. In 1912 this company became the Davis County Canning Company. Just two years later, in 1914, it was sold to the Kaysville Canning Company. The cannery itself closed in the late 1950s, but the warehouse remains in use today as a base for the shipping business, C.H. Dredge and Company, moving onions, potatoes, and other agricultural products in its trucks throughout the western United States.
The Smith Canning Company was started by Albert T. Smith in 1922 in Clearfield. After two moves, the first forced by a fire and the second by the construction of the Clearfield Naval Supply Depot during World War II, the Smith Canning Company saw the need to change with the times in the mid-1950s and moved into the frozen food business. The company was later sold to the Freeport Cold Storage Company, which remains in business today.
Another smaller cannery in the state was the Twin Peaks Canning Company in Murray in Salt Lake County. The factory was burned twice. After the second fire, the factory was rebuilt and reorganized as the Rocky Mountain Packing Company. The cannery was later owned by the Hunt Company. The Pleasant Grove Canning Company was located in Utah County and was the first major industry to be located in Orem, when the factory began production in 1919. In 1960 the Pleasant Grove company merged with the Utah Canning Company in Ogden, becoming the Orem plant of Utah Packers.
Any discussion of the canning industry in Utah must include the state’s milk canneries and condenseries, and the role that these milk processing plants played in the growth of Utah’s dairy industry.
Condensed milk first came into use in the mid-1850s as a way to preserve milk in cans, without refrigeration. The condensed milk process calls for milk to be evaporated to reduce its liquid content, and then to add sugar as a preservative. Evaporated milk first became available during the 1870s when milk companies were able to heat the evaporated milk so that it would not spoil in the cans, thereby making the sugar unnecessary.
The milk canning industry in Utah started in 1904 when the first milk condensing and processing plant in the state was built by the Utah Condensed Milk Company in Richmond, north of Logan. Upon completion this factory was said to be only the third, and largest, milk processing factory in the West. The new company sold its products under the name of Sego Milk. In subsequent years, the company repeatedly expanded and in 1928 sold its operations to the Pet Milk Company. The Pet name was first used in 1894 as “Our Pet Evaporated Milk,” the label for the company’s new “baby” sized six-ounce can that was developed to sell for a nickel. The company took the “Pet” name for its entire product line in 1923. When the Pet Milk Company took over the operations of the Utah Condensed Milk Company, it retained the use of the Sego brand name for its products that were sold in the western the western United States. All of the Cache Valley milk condenseries, as the milk canning factories were called, are closed today, but the Sego brand name is still available on today’s supermarket shelves along with other products of the Pet Milk Company.
Borden came to Utah’s milk processing industry as the Borden Western Company (a subsidiary of the Borden Condensed Milk Company) which built a milk condensing plant in Logan in 1916. The Morning Milk Company opened its milk condensing plant in Wellsville in 1923. The Carnation name came to Utah in 1946 when the Carnation Company bought the plants of the Morning Milk Company. The Wellsville plant was closed in 1963 and sold in 1967.
In 1924 Clarence Birdseye was the pioneer in the development of commercial food freezing. By 1930 over six million pounds of frozen food, including fruits, vegetables, and seafood, had been shipped. During the 1930s the railroads began the development of refrigerator cars that were capable of maintaining temperatures low enough to ship frozen foods, using ice to maintain the required low temperatures. The first mechanical refrigerator cars, which didn’t need ice to maintain freezing temperatures, came into use during 1949 in the East, for frozen Florida orange juice, and during 1952 in the West, for all of the fresh-frozen fruits and vegetables that were beginning to come out of California’s central valley. The industry grew with phenomenal rapidity.
The availability of dependable transportation for frozen food, along with the new marketing concept of central warehouses selling to the new supermarkets, issued the final blows to the canning industry in Utah. During the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s the marketing concept for foods included local farms furnishing local canneries, which in turn furnished local wholesale grocers with canned goods that were sold at local “mom and pop” corner grocery stores. As more and more of the new supermarkets were built, the food growers began centralizing their growing operations, locating the canneries and frozen food plants close to the fields with the best production. The finished goods were then centrally warehoused and shipped as needed to the local supermarkets, completely shutting out the much smaller local growers, canners, and grocers. Although the Del Monte cannery in Smithfield remains in business today with only intermittent operation, much has been made of the 1980 closing of the Stevens Canning Company in Roy. This company was the last of the independent canners in the state and its closing brought an end to the independent canning industry in the West. As the canning industry in Utah died, so did a small piece of Utah’s self-sufficiency.