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Filice & Perelli - Immigrants & Canners
 

     Filice & Perrelli Canning Company incorporated in California in 1918 after opening a cannery in Gilroy, CA in 1913.  Named after Gennaro Filice and John Perrelli, Italian immigrants from the province of Cosenza in Italy.  Filice and Perrelli’s families began moving to American starting around 1907. The Filice and Perrelli families were from the same region and related by marriage before they came to America.  

      Joseph Perrelli took part in 1986 in an oral history project in that interviewed people from the Richmond, California Port.  His interview gives us a glimpse into his experience immigrating to the America and running a cannery in Gilroy and Richmond, CA.  He recounts that his father was already living in the United States with his two older brothers.  They worked for railroad companies and canneries making money to send home to Italy.  The jobs did not often last long. When Perrelli’s father felt he found a stable situation, he sent for the rest of his family.   When Perrelli and his family arrived at Ellis Island in 1908, they spoke almost no English and carried small cards with English phrases, such as “I need bread” or “I need cheese” to help get what they needed.  After they

HSJ.Pacheco_Brand_yellow_free_peaches_circa_1940.jpg

 cleared Ellis Island, the family took a train to get to California. After the week long train ride, they arrived in California and were met by members of the Filice family.

      Perrelli’s family invested in a vineyard in Morgan Hill, named Paradise Valley, and produced a heavy red wine.  They sold their wine locally and eventually shipped it to New York.  Unfortunately, the wine business was not enough to support them.  So, the family began working for the Bisceglia Brothers cannery in Morgan Hill.  Joseph Perrelli remembered standing next to his mother cutting apricots and peaches as a child. His older brother also worked in the cannery and was old enough to do mechanical work.  The Bisceglia Brothers moved the cannery to Gilroy where they purchased peaches from orchards in Modesto and Marysville that traveled to the cannery on cattle railcars. The Perrellis retained their home in Morgan Hill moved seasonally to work in the cannery.  In 1912, the Bisceglia Brothers moved their operations to San Jose, and Perrelli’s family worked there as well. 

     In 1913, the Filices and Perrellis opened their own small cannery on a corner of the Filice property.  Surrounded by prune trees, the little cannery was only 60 by 60 feet. The employees completed almost the entire canning process by hand.  The only machine was the can sealer, which the company rented from American Can Company, where they purchased cans.  The first year, they canned 20,000 cases of tomatoes. 

     Gennaro Filice became company president even though he was only in this 20s.  Perrelli says the family chose him to be because he spoke English the best of the candidates from both families.  He also had an outgoing personality that suited the position.  Filice had to quickly find customers and wholesalers and learn the ropes of owning a cannery.  Fortunately, he found a mentor and the company thrived.

     In 1929, Filice and Perrelli moved the cannery to Richmond, CA to take advantage of the developing port.  There was plenty of room for the cannery to build, and they were able to reduce transportation costs by being on the port. 

 F&P Cannery Building.jpg    Another advantage of the location was that they were the only cannery, so they did not have to compete for laborers. Their move to Richmond coincided with the beginning of the Great Depression.  Many people needed the jobs the cannery supplied, so they had plenty of labor.  Staying open during the depression was still very precarious. 

      The cannery survived the Great Depression but according to Perrelli, “there was many, many years we didn’t make a profit."  In the 1950s, a cooperative of growers that wanted to get into canning, California Canners and Growers, wanted to acquire Filice and Perrelli because it was a small, local company with a good location facilities.  At first, the owners were not interested, but California Canners and Growers finally offered enough for them to consider selling their family business.  Other canning companies also sold canneries to California Canners and Growers, such as Richmond Chase, San Jose Canning Company, and Thorton.  Eventually, the City of Richmond purchased the Richmond cannery facilities that Filice and Perrelli once owned.Peach Types.png

     While working at Filice and Perrelli, Joseph Perrelli helped develop a cling peach pitting machine.  This was a very important invention for the California canning industry because they used primarily cling varieties of peaches.  The machine was so helpful that peach canners all over the world adopted it.  Filice and Perrelli did not own the production company for the cling peach pitter.  Instead, they created the Filper Corporation to maintain separation between the two products.  The DiGiorgio Corporation purchased in the 1970s.

As of 2008, the cannery building was still standing and being used by businesses.  http://www.baycrossings.com/dispnews.php?id=1951

Sources

Hill, Marjorie Dobkin and Ward. Filice and Perrelli Canning Co, Inc. Richmond, California Historic Resource Evaluation Report. 1998.

Perrelli, Joseph. "The Establishment of the Filice and Perrelli Canning Company in Richmond, 1929" an Oral History Conducted in 1986 by Judith K Dunning. On The Waterfront: An Oral History of Richmond, California. The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, Regional Oral History Office.