Cannery Life, Del Monte in the Santa Clara Valley

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Mission brand yellow cling peaches label

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In Their Own Words

Beatrice and Friends

Learn about Del Monte Plant #3 from the people who worked there.  See videos of former Del Monte employees sharing their memories.

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Mechanization of
the Assembly Line

Throughout the 20th century, the California Packing Corporation was an industry leader in fruit and vegetable processing.  Calpak followed the example set by the automobile and other industries in streamlining production through the use of assembly lines.  Calpak’s engineers and scientists worked to mechanize almost every step of the process.  But there were always tasks which could only be successfully performed by people.  Calpak plant workers worked as closely with machines as they did with each other. 

Sorting Peaches on the line, c. 1949In first decades of the 20th century, much of the cannery’s food preparation work – peeling, pitting, cutting and slicing - was done by hand.  These tasks, closely associated with the domestic work of the home kitchen, were reserved for women.  Assembly lines allowed workers to stand or sit in place and have the product brought to them on conveyor belts, rather than produce being hand-carried from station to station.  Women worked on the line pitting, slicing and sorting the fruit as it came by.  They were paid individually by the piece or amount they processed. 

Women preparing pears, c. 1940.Through the 1930’s and 1940’s women’s hand-work was steadily replaced by mechanical solutions, especially for cutting and pitting.  By the end of the 1950’s, practically all steps of the production process were mechanized, including cooking, peeling, and filling jars and cans.  Only sorting and quality control continued to be done by hand.  Women on the cannery line had transitioned from prep cooks to machine operators. Operators often felt harried or exhausted trying to keep pace with a machine that never got tired.  They also had less contact with co-workers, since they were no longer working around a communal table or across from someone on the line.  Mechanization forced all workers to become “cogs” in the assembly line machinery. 

“I think working on the lines was the hardest because you had to be focused on right there, your hands and your eyes.” – Plant #3 worker Nina Flores