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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Our Corn Canneries

Dallas Bogan on 19 September 2004
The following was taken from Dallas Bogan's book, "The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow."
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Origin and Development of a Great Industry in Warren County.

Canning Art Discovered in France--Brought to America--Drying Sweet Corn Precedes Canning--The South
Lebanon Packing Company Starts Pioneer
Corn Cannery--Big Corn Cans.

September 2, 1909.

While the several corn canneries of Warren county are in successful operation it may be of interest to look at the origin and growth of the great industry of canning foods in our country and more particularly the origin of the business of canning sweet corn in this county. It is worthy of note that two of the three men who were members of the firm which established the first factory for canning sugar corn in this region are still living and citizens of the town of Lebanon. These two men are John M. Hayner and Peter B. Dunham.
In the volume of selected manufacturing industries issued by the census office in 1905 is a valuable report by Emmons K. Elsworth on "Canning and Preserving Fruits and Vegetables, Fish and Oysters," from which much of the data here given is taken.
The seasons when many fruits and vegetables can be obtained and used for food in their natural state are short, and it has always been an important inquiry with civilized men how these products can be preserved and used for food when out of season and in localities where they are not grown.
The first processes used for this purpose were drying, smoking and pickling, all of which are still employed. Drying is the oldest and most primitive method of preserving foods, and altho it answers but imperfectly for many substances, it has been much practiced. Drying in the sun is the cheapest of all methods of preventing the decay of foods, and many fruits and vegetables are still preserved in a satisfactory manner by this method.
Immense quantities of orchard fruits, particularly of apples, were annually cut and dried both for home consumption and for market long before the canning of fruit was discovered. The Indians and the early hunters preserved meat by cutting it into strips and drying it in the sun or by fire. After being dried it was called jerked meat. James Smith, long a prisoner among the Indians of Ohio, in describing the foods of the red men, mentions "green corn dried," but there is no reason to believe that this method of preserving the greatest delicacy of the Indians' diet, was followed to any considerable extent either by the native tribes or the early white settlers.

Discovery of the Art.

The decay of food, both animal and vegetable, it is now known, is caused by the growth of micro-organisms. Drying, smoking and pickling are designed to subject the food to processes which will prevent the growth of the organisms, The germs which cause decay find their way in- to animal or vegetable matter from the air. The principle upon which canning is based is this: Heating airy substance to a high temperature kills all the organisms pre- sent, and hermetically sealing the substance while still at a high temperature prevents the access of more organisms from the atmosphere and thus food may be preserved for an indefinite period. The art of canning was discovered before the reason on which it is based was known.
The perfect preservation of juicy fruits and green vegetables implies the retention of their full nutritive power, succulence and digestibility, together with their natural tastes, colors, and odors. The canning method comes nearer to doing all this than any other ever discovered.
About one hundred years ago much attention was drawn to this subject in France by a reward offered by Napoleon of 12,000 francs for the best method of preserving food for the navy. The process of canning good heated to a high temperature and sealing it so a to exclude the atmosphere, it is now believed, was invented by a Frenchman named Nicholas Appert to whom the French government paid the mentioned reward in 1809. This Frenchman was a benefactor to his race but he did not live to see himself regarded as the father of a great industry. He continued his researches until his death and spent all his money upon them and like many other inventors died in poverty and neglect. He was the author of a book on the art of canning which the French government published in 1810.

Brought to America.

The art of canning was introduced into England from France and brought to America from England. By 1825 fruits and vegetables were canned in this country, but the industry was of small importance until the middle of the last century.
In 1849 fruits and vegetables were canned at Newark N.J., for Dr. Kane's Arctic expedition. After 1850 the development of the industry was rapid and a great variety of foods began to be thus preserved, such as fruits, vegetables, oysters, fish and meats. For some reason Maryland became the center of the industry, but Maine, New York, and New Jersey were also prominent.
The first foods canned in America were lobsters and salmon; next fruits and vegetables. Isaac Winslow is believed to have been the first to successfully can sugar corn for market. He made his experiments in 1842, and applied for a patent which was not granted until 1863.
Tomatoes were first canned for commercial purposes in 1847, at which time Harrison W. Crosby commenced packing them at Jamesburg, N.J.
It is certainly remarkable that the tomato which up to the middle of the last century was little used for food and was believed to many to be poisonous soon became the garden vegetable raised in greatest quantities for the canning factory.
In the United States Census report for 1905 on special industries, the canning industry is divided into three great branches, viz:
1. The canning of fruits and vegetables (including corn).
2. The canning of fish.
3. The canning of oysters.
Of these branches the first is far more important in every particular than either of the others. Among the fruits and vegetables canned in the United States in 1904 corn stood first in the number of cases and in the value of the product. Next in order were tomatoes, peas, beans, peaches, apricots and berries.

Beginnings of Corn Canning in Warren County.

The drying of sweet corn both for domestic and commercial purposes preceded the canning industry. The business of drying sugar corn became an extensive one in this county. In 1871 William H. Poore and Henry B. Kelley began drying sweet corn near Fosters Crossing where they had one of the first dry houses in the west. Poore and Kelley were the discoverers of a new process of preserving green corn by drying. In 1872 these men in connection with J.M. Hayner became extensively engaged in this business on Mr. Hayner's farm near South Lebanon. Other corn drying houses were established in the county and Mr. Hayner built one near Lebanon.
The corn drying business was conducted with profit for some years but at length became unprofitable and was succeeded by canning, some houses, it seems, conducting the business of drying and canning corn at the same place. It is claimed that the first corn canning firm west of the Alleghenies was the South Lebanon Packing Co., which fitted up the dry house on the Hayner farm for canning. I have seen a letter head of this company which gives the names of J.M. Hayner, Dunham-P.B.P.B. Dunham, and H.B. Kelley as the members and states their business as "Manufacturers of and dealers in Royal canned and dried sweet corn." Mr. Dunham gives the year in which corn was first canned at this pioneer factory as 1879.
About 1880 Messrs. Dunham and Kelley bought out Mr. Hayner's interest and continued the industry. In a business directory of Warren county for 1881 I find the following: "South Lebanon Packing Co. (P.B. Dunham and H.B. Kelley,) manufacturers and Packers of Royal Brand Green Corn."
None of the members of the original firm understood the canning business and they sent to Baltimore where they procured their machinery for an expert to start up their factory. It is related that the firm at first had on hand a large amount of dried corn for which there was little demand, and in order to get rid of it they purchased a large quantity of beans which was cooked with the corn, canned and sold as succotash.
At first many processes not performed by automatic machinery were laboriously done by hand. The corn was cut from the cob and the cans filled by hand. Notwithstanding the slow processes and the large amount of spoiled corn the business was profitable from the start. In the eighties the growth of the industry was marvelous and new canneries grew up in all parts of the country.
Peter B. Dunham became the sole proprietor of the South Lebanon establishment and removed it to Morrow where with a partner he conducted it under the name of the Morrow Packing Co. Since 1884 J.M. Hayner has been extensively engaged in the business by himself. These gentlemen have probably had more experience in corn canning than any other two men in Ohio.
Henry B. Kelley is said to have made the first suggestion to can green corn in Warren county. He was an ingenious man, a native of New York and came to Fosters in this county in 1871. He was a son-in-law of Orson B. Murray. Mr. Kelley removed west and was extensively engaged in canning at the time of his death. Only last week the Kelley Canning factory at Waverly, Iowa, run by his sons, was destroyed by fire originating in the explosion of a gasoline tank with a loss of $100,000,
The two corn canneries of Lebanon were both started in 1904. There were then eight of these factories in Warren county which is the number now in operation.

The Tin Cans.

The Frenchman who invented the canning process proposed to use only glass for his cans, glass being, he said, the material most impenetrable by air, and he did not experiment with any other material. In England as early as 1810 we hear of a patent covering vessels for canning made of glass, pottery, tin, or other fit materials. On account of the expensiveness, bulkiness and perishableness of some of these materials, tin has generally been employed. At first the tin cans were cut out with shears and soldered by hand and were crude and expensive. With such cans, canning could not be practiced on a commercial scale.
The automatic can making machine has made the canning industry what it is today. Two men and two or three boys can with machinery make 40,000 or 50,000 tin cans a day. But the old time tinsmith should not conclude from this that machinery has displaced labor. The car loads of tin cans now sent to canning factories would not have been made at all, if they had to be made in the old way. It would be impossible to carry on the canning art on any considerable scale if cans were as costly as when made by hand. So far from the labor-saving inventions displacing labor, they have rather given employment to men in new industries which could not be carried on without them.
In 1906 it was said that tomato canning factories alone in the United States used annually 240,000,000 cans and that $30,000,000 was invested in the tomato canning industry. So vast an industry gives employment to many laborers, and is evident that it could not be conducted on so great a scale without automatic machinery both for making cans and for the canning processes, this machinery cheapening the cost of production and thus increasing the output. Here as in other industries labor saving machinery has increased the demand for laborers.

The Biggest Corn Can

While considering the importance of the discovery by which the grains of green corn can be preserved as food for ourselves we should not overlook the not less important discovery by which the whole stalk and ear of corn can be preserved in a succulent state as food for milk cows. The silo may be regarded as an immense can for preserving a green crop for future use by excluding it from the action of air and water. The use of both the tin can and the wooden silo for preserving green corn became common in this country in the latter part of the last century.
The canning of the grains of green sweet corn is only one of more than a hundred purposes to which parts of the maize plant are now applied. Indian corn which was given us by the North American Indians is the most important food plant of the world. It furnishes food for man and beast. In the abundance of its yield, the number of forms in which it may be used and the variety of climates in which may be grown, it excels any of the cereals we received from the old world. While its chief use is in animal husbandry, it is in connection with grass the great producing material of pork, beef, milk and butter, and thus indirectly an all important food for man.
While it is grown in other lands, our country remains the land of the maize. Four-fifths of the corn crop of the world is grown in the United States, and the seven states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska raise three times as much as all the rest of our country, that is, seven states of the Mississippi valley raise about three-fifths of this greatest crop of the world.

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