Cannery Life, Del Monte in the Santa Clara Valley

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Mission brand yellow cling peaches label

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San Jose Fruit Packing Co.

San Jose Fruit Packing Company labelDr. James Madison Dawson, his wife Eloise Jones Dawson, and their son Thomas Dawson are credited with the first successful commercial canning operation in the Santa Clara Valley.  Their first pack in 1871 was 300 cases of peaches, apricots, pears and plums, processed in a woodshed in the Dawson’s backyard.  The company was founded in 1872 under the name JM Dawson & Co., and later incorporated as the San Jose Fruit Packing Company.  As a physician, Dr. Dawson was particularly concerned with the safety of canned food and applied his scientific knowledge to cooking and preserving methods.  Mrs. Dawson managed the cooking process with scientific input from her husband.  Tom Dawson’s skills as a tinsmith were applied to developing efficient canning processes.  The experiments of this family partnership solved many of the challenges of the early canning industry.

San Jose Fruit Packing Company Building, c. 1890.In 1893 the San José Fruit Packing Company constructed a state-of-the-art cannery on Sainsevain Street (now Auzerais Avenue) near downtown San Jose.  The triangular site was bordered by Los Gatos Creek to the east, a railroad spur to the west and Sainsevain Street to the south. The original cannery consisted of three large two-story timber-frame buildings and many smaller structures.  The main warehouse, later called Building “F,” was located on the railroad spur.  Building “F” functioned as the packing, shipping and canned fruit warehouse.  Building “G” housed the steam bath and cooking room.  Building “H” contained the fruit preparation department and empty can storage.  Building “C” was for jelly manufacturing.  The plant complex also included a receiving room, a can warehouse, and offices.  In the late 1890’s it was the largest fruit cannery in the world, shipping 275,000 cases (6.6 million cans) in 1895 alone.

San Jose Fruit Packing Company Plant, c. 1895.The San Jose Fruit Packing Company was the incubator for several of the creative young businessmen who would lead the canning industry.  Co-founder Tom Dawson went on to serve as general superintendent of California Packing Corporation [Calpak].  Robert I. Bentley, who was to become the first president of Calpak, worked for SJFPC during its first decade of operation.