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Canning: A Maine Industry

This Exhibit Contains 16 Items


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Item 1469

Winslow corn label, Portland, ca.1880

Winslow corn label, Portland, ca.1880 / Maine Historical Society

The Winslow brothers of Portland were among the first canners in the United States, and canned corn was their first product.

The process pioneered by the Winslows involved placing corn in a can, heating the can to kill bacteria, and then sealing it. This allowed the corn to remain edible and retain its flavor.
By 1852, their namesake -- Winslow's Patent Hermetically Sealed Green Corn -- had gained commercial success.

 

Item 1052

George H. Jewett, ca. 1920

George H. Jewett, ca. 1920 / Maine Historical Society

George S. Jewett worked in the corn canning industry throughout his life. Born in 1849, Jewett's first job was in the J. Winslow Jones' factory in Portland, the first corn factory in Maine.

At left is George S. Jewett's son, George H. Jewett.

 

Item 1044

Cannery 9, Burnham and Morrill Co., 1887

Cannery 9, Burnham and Morrill Co., 1887 / Maine Historical Society

After learning the industry with the Winslows, Jewett moved to Norridgewock where, around 1885, he became superintendent of the local Burnham and Morrill (B&M) Corn Factory.

The industry thrived during this time and Jewett held this position for twenty-three years.

 

Item 6758

Jewett Corn Factory, Norridgewock, ca. 1915

Jewett Corn Factory, Norridgewock, ca. 1915 / Maine Historical Society

After his time working for B&M, Jewett decided to set out on his own.

In 1910, he built or purchased several corn canning factories, most of which were in Somerset County. His largest was in Norridgewock.

 

Item 4229

J.W. Brown Canning Factory, Hartford, ca. 1890

J.W. Brown Canning Factory, Hartford, ca. 1890 / Maine Historical Society

Maine's abundant seaports, as well as its proximity to the large east coast cities, made the state a profitable place for canning operations.

Since the canning process required fresh corn, the factories were usually built directly in farming communities.

 

Item 1471

Jewett corn label, Norridgewock, ca. 1920

Jewett corn label, Norridgewock, ca. 1920 / Maine Historical Society

Every autumn, the canning industry employed thousands of Maine's men, women, and children.

Between eighty and one hundred people per season worked at George S. Jewett's Norridgewock factory, with most wages being "at the minimum allowed by law."

More than half of the employees were women, and workers often returned to the factory year after year.

 

Item 6710

Corn Canning, Lovell, ca. 1890

Corn Canning, Lovell, ca. 1890 / Lovell Historical Society

The Lovell Corn Shop was built in the early 1890s by James P. Baxter and Sons of Portland. Lovell farmers planted corn for the shop.

Lovell people got jobs inside -- and young and old rich and poor, "upper crust" and "lower crust" flocked to the husking shed to husk corn at four and five cents a basket.

 

Item 6542

Canning factory, Fryeburg, 1938

Canning factory, Fryeburg, 1938 / Fryeburg Historical Society

The photograph shows corn being delivered and dumped at the Burnham & Morrill Canning Factory in Fryeburg.

 

Item 6959

Corn knives, ca. 1858

Corn knives, ca. 1858 / Maine Historical Society

The canning industry required specialized tools. These knives and can that were used in the corn canning industry near Portland about 1858 were exhibited in the Circuit court case "Jno. Winslow Jones versus Henry Clark," April 1872. The case was about patent infringement on the design of these tools.

 

Item 4230

J.W. Brown Canning Factory, Hartford, ca. 1890

J.W. Brown Canning Factory, Hartford, ca. 1890 / Maine Historical Society

Some of the employees at the J.W. Brown Canning Factory in Hartford show off the products they helped to produce.


 

Item 6762

Jewett Cannery float, Norridgewock, ca. 1920

Jewett Cannery float, Norridgewock, ca. 1920 / Maine Historical Society

In about 1920, the Jewett Cannery displayed its products in a parade in its hometown of Norridgewock, reflecting its importance as an employer in the community.

 

Item 1472

Jewett Farm corn label sketch, Norridgewock, 1916

Jewett Farm corn label sketch, Norridgewock, 1916 / Maine Historical Society

Labels were important to help consumers identify products.

This design sketch, created in 1916, shows a label for canned corn for Jewett's Norridgewock operation.

 

Item 6094

Burnham and Morrill Red Jacket lobster label

Burnham and Morrill Red Jacket lobster label / Maine State Archives

As was standard in the industry, Jewett expanded the types of vegetables he canned in order to prolong the short corn canning season.

His factories eventually put out canned string beans and apples, but corn remained his primary product.

Other items canned throughout the state included blueberries, sardines, and lobster.

 

Item 6763

Jewett self-heating can drawing, ca. 1900

Jewett self-heating can drawing, ca. 1900 / Maine Historical Society

New inventions constantly revolutionized the industry and Jewett chimed in with one of his own: the self-heating can.

The can had a central chamber containing a substance that would release heat when put in contact with water. Water could be dropped into this chamber and the resulting heat would cook the surrounding vegetables.

Jewett claimed it was "just the thing for light housekeeping, picnics, camping, yachting, sportsmen, etc."

 

Item 6756

Construction crew, Norridgewock, ca. 1910

Construction crew, Norridgewock, ca. 1910 / Maine Historical Society

A canner all of his life, George S. Jewett died in 1926, and his business stayed in the Jewett family until the mid 1950s.

Corn canning in Maine slowed substantially during the Great Depression, and increased competition from other parts of the country ensured that the industry would never fully recover.

After playing a major economic role in the state for nearly a century, Maine's corn canning industry had all but vanished by the late 1960s.

 

Item 6092

Burnham and Morrill label, Portland, 1891

Burnham and Morrill label, Portland, 1891 / Maine State Archives

Bibliographic Essay:

The Jewett Family Collection (Maine Historical Society Library, #1532, Portland, Maine) contains excellent primary sources on the canning industry in Maine. The most comprehensive look at the industry is offered in Paul B. Frederic's <em>Canning Gold: Northern New England's Sweet Corn Industry, A Historical Geography</em> (New York: University Press of America, 2002).

 

 

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