- 1817 -
Bringing Commercial Canning to America

     Englishman William Underwood (1787-1864) embarked in New Orleans in 1817 and the air was full of promise.  The United States was still a new country mostly concentrated on the East Coast but rapidly moving West to fill in the newly acquired territory along the Mississippi river. 

MIT Museum - prescott-underwood.gif     He had been an apprentice at a pickling establishment in London when he learned about Nicholas Appert and read The Book for All Households.  Underwood traveled around the country for a couple years ending up in Boston, an important economic center of the new republic. 

Boston.png      As an established port city in one of the oldest English settlements, Boston was also a center for food trade in the colonies connecting the city to the rest of the world. After a decade, Underwood had established himself in the food shipping industry.       He used Appert’s methods to preserve New England’s bounty in jars and sent the goods to markets across the world.  His records show that he also sold to locals and experimented with canning different foods such as lobsters, milk, and, fish.  He used glass jars because Americans did not have the technical ability or metal supplies to produce metal cans with the same efficiency as in England.         

Deviled.png        The canning industry often credits Underwood with bringing canning to America, but he was not the only canner.  Thomas Kensett (1786-1829), also of England, preserved foods using Appert’s process in New York City.   Kensett’s business prospered in the area around Manhattan and in 1825 he received a patent with his father-in-law Ezra Daggett for tin vessels.  Tinsmiths made these early tin cans entirely by hand, and it was a laborious process.  Not long after Underwood and Kensett began their businesses, people in Baltimore began canning oysters and selling them along the East Coast beginning the city’s lucrative seafood canning industry. 

     You can sample a product from Underwood's company today.  Deviled Ham!  Make sure to look for the iconic company logo trademarked in 1870.  


Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Edited by Tom Jaine. 3rd Edition ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014.

May, Earl Chapin. The Canning Clan; a Pageant of Pioneering Americans. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937.

Shephard, Sue. Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.