Bayfield Canning Company – POW Camp

The Bayfield Canning Company Stockholders Meeting Attendees BHA 1980.5

The Bayfield Canning Company Stockholders Meeting Attendees
BHA: 1980.5

Bayfield Canning Company

Excerpt: Gus Weber [1]

BHA Document 83.29.3

“And so when the Bayfield Canning Company came into existence in 1920 most of the obstacles had been overcome in regard to the items to be canned locally.  Only the refinement and speeding up process was left to be developed by new labor saving machinery. Several improvements have been made on bean machinery since we started, and a mechanical bean picker is now being experimented with that is not yet on the market.

The company was organized by two men who came here to can the Bayfield fruits. [2] A couple of years later the company was reorganized into the present corporation. The first years were devoted in an experimental way to canning of strawberries, raspberries, cherries, apples, beets, carrots, beans, and the making of pickles. These were later abandoned for the exclusive packing of green and wax beans, which has continued to this date. 

Just in case any of you wish to plant some beans for the cannery next season, naturally I suppose you do, please do not plant just bean seed. The seed planted by the cannery is pedigreed seed grown in Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho for trueness to type and freedom from disease. The seed is purchased by the cannery and distributed among the growers at approximate cost and paid for from the returns from their beans after harvest.

Bayfield beans have built up an enviable reputation. No better beans are packed and for this reason the cannery has been able to dispose of its pack yearly, good times and bad, and has distributed more than $1 million in this area since it was established. The money has been dispensed mainly in payments to the growers and for labor. The money is fresh every year – by that I mean we are not exchanging our own dollars in the community but bringing them in from other areas as our shipments are 99% to other states or cities outside of our own.

The company has gone through some trying times and has made money and lost money. There were times during the Great Depression in the 30’s when we wondered how we would continue to operate. The number of canneries operating in the United States dropped from 3000 to 1200 and many of them ceased operating for three or four years and some never did open again under the same ownership. Bayfield continued to operate and although we did not make any money. We did continue to bring money into the community each year.

Our beans are distributed under three labels, Bayfield, Apostle Islands and Knight brands. One you buy the Bayfield label you buy the best. The sieve size is indicated on the label. Try the different sizes until you find the one you prefer. Personally, I like about the # 4 sieve size best as I think there is more bean flavor in it. Others swear by the smaller sizes, especially the tiny whole beans.

When the beans are delivered at the cannery they are first weighed and then graded for quality. They then go to the snipping machines which cut off the ends. The machines do miss some of the beans, so they are then run over moving belts where the ends are snipped off by hand on those that have been missed by the machine. Any poor beans are also thrown out at this time.

The beans are then taken to the large grading machines which grade them into five different sizes. Most of the first three sizes, the smaller sizes, are canned whole and the balance goes to the cutting machines which cut them into lengths about an inch long. They are then run through the blancher, (a hot water bath), and then washed in cold water before going to the filling table where there put into cans. On the way to the closing machines which puts the covers on the cans they are given a brine solution. The covers are then put on the cans at a rate of 60 a minute which was quite remarkable a few years ago.

The cans are then placed in iron crates and the crates placed in the retorts which hold about 45 cases of #2 cans. These retorts are pressure cookers similar to what you aren’t now buying for the home. The beans are cooked at 240° at 10#of pressure for 22 to 40 minutes depending on the size of the cans being used.

After the beans are cooked, they are placed in the cooling tank and cooled some before being placed in the cartons and stored in the warehouse. A machine is used to label the beans and the same grade of beans goes out to the trade under the many labels of the different buyers. We sell our beans in car loads to the wholesalers. Some of them use our labels but most of them have their own labels. They use a certain label for the best grade, another label for a lower grade and another one for a still lower grade.

In closing I just want to say that the Canning Company has appreciated very much the cooperation of the community and neighboring area has given us through the years and especially during the World War II [3] years. The desire and willingness to help has been remarkable; and at times I have just sat and marbles at it as I realized that those people were very busy with their own affairs. I hope that in turn we have been on some value to the community in the soul will continue to be so for many years.  Thank you. [4]

The Cannery later All-Wood Manufacturing storage building after July 16 1942 Flood

The Cannery later All-Wood Manufacturing storage building after July 16 1942 Flood.

[1] Robert J. Nelson recalls the bright pumpkin orange and white trimmed building in the 1960’s resided on Block 104, Lots 13-17.  In later years, Mr. Gus Weber was the superintendent of the Bayfield Canning Company, and it is presumed that Mr. Weber authored the original two thousand word descriptor from which this excerpt is based. 

[2] Bayfield-Wisconsin: M. Olson of Couderay, builder of the Bayfield Canning company plant has disposed of his interest in it to Bayfield businessman and neighboring fruit growers, who have incorporated with $30,000 capital stock. Principal owners are H.J. Wachsmuth, J. P. O’Malley, A. J. Anderson, S. L. Boutin and D. S. Knight. C.O. Bigler retains his interest. The plan is to enlarge the plant and pack vegetables and fruits. Canner/Packer Booklet, Vol. 53, P. 30 Google Books

[3] A special agent was employed from May 1 to September 30. The months of May and June were devoted almost entirely to farm investigations relative to the induction of registrants into the armed services. These investigations were made at the request of the selective service Board in order that proper classification could be effected. Beginning July 1, the labor agent devoted nearly all of his time to the labor situation in the fruit and canning area. At the annual meeting of the Bayfield Canning Company the growers appointed a labor committee to work with the labor agent in recurring and disturbing labor among the farms as needed. The survey was made at the beginning of the season, which indicated that about 75 outside pickers would be needed to take care of the bean crop. The labor committee was able to keep the supply at a fairly constant level, and the situation was helped by the exchange of labor by the growers. Annual reports of the Bayfield County agricultural agent and the Bayfield County home agent, Washburn, Wisconsin: 1944

It should also be noted that German prisoners of war, housed in City of Bayfield- Historic Courthouse, and motor-cased to the bean fields were also utilized for labor and picking purposes.  “In 1945, German prisoners-of-war were held in the Courthouse’s second floor and auditorium.  Apparently, Bayfield citizens felt no danger from the presence of the prisoners since a large fence surrounded the courthouse grounds.  Also, American soldiers constantly guarded the men.  The Germans helped with the harvest and other chores on area farms. A few Bayfield citizens could speak German and it was recalled that whenever such an exchange took place, the prisoners were exceedingly pleased”.  The Court House Caper (1892) and Other Tales Revisited. Bayfield County Press, March 7, 1975.

[4] Obituary Sigurd C. Anderson. “He also was a foreman of the Bayfield Bean Company. At the closing of the cannery by the Friday Canning co. in 1958, he moved to New Richmond, WI, where he worked for the Friday Canning Co. for two years”.

POWs working a harvesters Bayfield County Press

POWs working a harvesters – Bayfield County Press

This history brief was written by Robert J. Nelson. Generously sharing our local history through his research and writing.