Jersey Reflections: First Canning Company

By: Vince Farinaccio, Columnist

The factory canned a wide range of fruit, as well as vegetables and seafood, from local sources.

It wasn’t long after Vineland’s founding as a manufacturing and agricultural community that a canning factory was established, an ideal choice to merge the two identities of the town. 

According to Allison Smith’s research published during the 1980s in the Vineland Historical Magazine, the Vineland Fruit Preserving and Manufacturing Company was created in 1866 and housed in a building owned by town founder Charles K. Landis on 6th Street between Montrose and Quince streets. The building had provided Landis the opportunity to create a flour mill and rent the remaining space to other businesses, but the establishment of a canning factory on the premises seems to have involved him as more than a landlord.

Smith reports that the company was formed by the Gage family and “financed by sale of stock to many early Vineland settlers” at $25 a share, a considerable amount of money at the time, which explains why most stockholders only invested in one to eight shares each.

John Gage, a Chicagoan who moved his family to Vineland in 1864, and his son Henry seem to have been the driving force behind the formation of the town’s first canning company. According to Edwin Oscar Gale’s Reminiscences of Early Chicago and Vicinity, John Gage’s prior experience and success in the business world made him an ideal candidate for such a venture.

Gale writes that “in 1837, John Gage built a flour mill on the west bank of the South Branch, on the north side of Van Buren Street. It was not long before Jared Gage joined his brother, and, Van Buren Street being so far out of town, they opened a flour and feed store on South Water Street, between Clark and Dearborn, of which Jared took charge.

In 1846, John Gage, ‘the honest miller,’ retired from the business which had been so profitable and engaged extensively in the culture of grapes at Vineland, New Jersey.”

When the Vineland Fruit Preserving and Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1867, Gage and his son seemed content to serve as secretaries on the board. Records list Landis as president, but Smith explains that he resigned sometime early in 1867 and was replaced by another Gage, John Porcius, who received a $720 annual salary. An “experienced canner,” New Yorker H.S. Edget, was hired at $1,200 a year.

Smith reports that the company’s canned products consisted of fruit, vegetables and seafood. The factory canned a wide range of fruit that was supplemented in May 1867 with strawberries from local growers. The products were shipped, as Smith notes, by “Philadelphia and New York Steamboat Co., West Jersey Express Co., Millville and Glassboro R.R. Co. and the steamer ‘Millville’ from the Whitall-Tatum Co. dock. The West Jersey Express ran their wagons between Bridgeton, Salem, Millville, Vineland and Cape Island…The Vineland company dealt with wholesale grocers in Philadelphia and New York…”

It appears that personnel and customer issues arose in 1867. Edget was fired and complaints arose concerning the quality of the canned goods. In a letter uncovered by Smith from early 1868, Kemp, Day and Co. argue that two cases of clams from the Vineland company “are all spoiled and we have ordered them back at your expense.”

Another letter early that year admonishes the company for its packaging, reporting that “the cases having clams in [them] had burst. The stench was so great that I could hardly get a person to take them out.”

With the canning factory behind in rent payments and stockholders becoming increasingly discouraged, the company was soon authorized “to sell all goods and property.” An ad accompanying Smith’s article in the Vineland Historical Magazine announces a public sale of “the stock of canned fruit, tools, fixtures, furniture, & c., of The Vineland Fruit Preserving and Manufacturing Company.”

The date of the sale is given as February 11, 1868 at 10 a.m. and additional information includes the following: “The Good-will and Charter of the Company will be assigned to any party who may purchase the property for the purpose of continuing the manufacture of Canned Fruit.”

Apparently, no one else was interested in continuing a canning factory at the time. Vineland would have to be patient for a successor.