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Francis Cutting & the First California Canners


LosAltos Hills Hist Soc.Francis-Cutting.jpg

      California quickly became an important player in the canned fruit market.  The first canners in California were entrepreneurs that created a sustainable economy from the Gold Rush by providing goods and services to the miners then built long-term business. A history of California canneries presented at the National Canners Association conference of 1914 claims that Francis Cutting and Dan Provost were the first fruit canners in California.  Provost worked for the Provost & Co of New York, a merchant who shipped goods to the booming port of San Francisco during the Gold Rush.  Not a canner in the conventional sense, he repackaged already processed goods from larger containers to smaller consumer sized containers.  the packa.png

     In 1860, Francis Cutting perceiving a market for processed food began packing a small amount of fruits and vegetables in glass and tin.  He purchased the tin from the East Coast and had it shipped to San Francisco where he had the tin cans made in his factory.  By 1863, Cutting & Co was quite a success; he was packing two pound, five pound, gallon, and five-gallon cans of fruits and vegetables and had a contract with the army.

     Cutting was probably the first to commercially can fresh fruit, but his monopoly was short lived.  By 1868, J. Lusk Canning Company of Oakland began to can raspberries, corn, tomatoes, and peas.  The discovery of the Comstock Lode in Nevada provided another market and more canners, like J. Lusk and A. Lusk, jumped into the canning business to fill the need.  The California pack reached 10,000 cases of fruit and another 10,000 of jam and jelly by 1868.  Between 1872 and 1880, several other major canneries emerged in the San Francisco Bay area.  King-Morse Canning Co. of San Francisco began canning in 1873.       

growers.png     Just south of the big city of San Francisco, entrepreneurs built canneries in the Santa Clara Valley.  Golden Gate Packing and San José Packing Company opened their doors in the 1870s.  Concurrently, Santa Clara County became a thriving agricultural community.  San José, was the largest city in the county and the center of the agricultural community.  So, food processors opened plants there.  Dried fruit, particularly prunes, became a vital business in the Santa Clara Valley.  While this was a profitable business, the method of drying held a certain amount of risk.  Driers would pick the fruit, cut it, and lay it out in the sun to dry.  This low-tech means of food preservation is probably one of the oldest methods for preventing spoilage.  However it is subject to the whims of nature.  One year, a deluge of storms hit San José and the entire crop was lost because in the flooding.  Canning, in contrast, provided a way to keep food longer in its semi-original state, was also faster way to process fruit, and so took the process from the field to a factory setting giving processors more control over the environment of production.  Moving indoors also changed the dynamic of processing and the potential mechanization.

   Los Altos Hist Soc. Inside-Cal-Cannery-1880.jpg     By 1872, Cutting produced a record-breaking 22,000 cans, and by the end of the decade, the fruit canning industry was producing 145,000 cases.  This was a major feat because the canners still struggled with some major drawbacks in production.  First, cans had to be handmade and tin still came to San Francisco from the East Coast on ship.  Tin was still twenty dollars a box and the price of solder and other materials for can making were the same.  Freight rates were also quite expensive.  California offered an excellent environment for growing, but the same mountains that kept the climate of the state moist and cool, made it difficult to get raw goods out of the state.  Although the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, the railroad rates were still too expensive and so the canners still shipped mostly on ship until the end of the century.  Canners encouraged the creation of the Panama Canal because it would make shipping much faster and lower rates and make it easier for laborers to get to the state and ease California’s chronic labor shortage.

     By the end of the 19th century, small to mid-sized canneries were located across California and processing fruits, such as peaches and pears, and vegetables, such as asparagus and spinach.  The growth of the canning industry emerged from the fresh fruit industry, but by the end of the century, it was profitable enough to provide a large market for fruits and vegetables, which in turn, encouraged more growers to plant even more fruits and vegetables. 


"Canners Criticise Railroad Commission for Inactivity." San Francisco Chronicle (1869-Current File). 1910, 1910,

Arbuckle, Clyde. Clyde Arbuckle's History of San José: The Culmination of a Lifetime of Research. San José, Calif. (96 N. Almaden Blvd., San José 95110-2490): Smith & McKay Printing Co, 1986.

Jacobs, Isidor. "The Rise and Progress of the Canning Industry in California." In A History of the Canning Industry by Its Most Prominent Men, edited by Arthur I. Judge, 30-39. Baltimore: The Canning Trade, 1914.

Todd, James. "Panama Canal Aids Intercoastal Traffic in Canned Foods." Western Canner & Packer, 1926/11//undefined, 1926.

"From Del Monte Corporation to Griffin House in Los Altos Hills” http://www.losaltoshillshistory.org/Resources/GriffinHouse/index.html

Bill Lockhart, Carol Serr, Pete Schulz, Beau Schriever, and Bill Lindsey, “Baker & Cutting and the Firms of Francis Cutting” https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/Baker&Cutting.pdf

Ungar, Arliss, “The Life and Times of Francis Cutting (1834-1913) Unitarian Lay Leader, Businessman, Benefactor,” http://www.test.uucollegium.org/Research%20papers/11paper_Ungar.pdf