Tue, December 03, 2013

Alaska’s First Cannery, Klawock

By: Pat Roppel
George Hamilton built a salmon saltery at what became Klawock sometime around 1869. Sometime in late 1876, Hamilton disposed of his trading and fishing post to the San Francisco firm of Sisson, Wallace and Co. As a result, the first salmon cannery to operate in Alaska was built.
In December 1877, businessmen incorporated, under the laws of California, the North Pacific Packing and Trading Company. The incorporators were W. C. Lynde, A. W. Sisson, Clark W. Crocker, W. H. Wallace and Charles Land.
The main object of the new company was to can salmon and market it. Although Sisson, Wallace & Co. purchased the property, the articles of incorporation mentions the incorporators/owners individually. Amazingly, a copy survives at the California Historical Society in San Francisco.
The capital stock is listed as $100,000, divided into one thousand shares. However, the investors only purchased $21,000 worth of stock. It was typical to subscribe enough to start operations and if more money was needed, stock could be sold. George Hamilton’s share is listed as 12.5 shares worth $1,250. This was payment for the property. James Healy had 12.5 shares, and the other eight investors had 25 shares. Names in the incorporation papers also list R. A. Wilson, J. M. Pike, and J. W. Egbert, undoubtedly the attorneys who drew up the papers. They owned no shares.
Who were these men who decided to risk money in an industry untried in a remote U.S. possession? I could not locate anything about Charles Land or James Healy. Lynde and Hough were the principal sales company for Pacific Coast cod. Not long after becoming involved with the Klawock company, Lynde and Hough purchased the American Russian Commercial Company’s salmon saltery at Redoubt Lake near Sitka.
Since 1857, Crocker, Sisson, and Wallace were co-partners doing business under the name Sisson, Wallace & Co. in San Francisco. It was dealers in merchandise, owning general stores in places like Truckee. Crocker had also been a partner with his brother Charles Crocker, one of the Big Four that planned and constructed the Central Pacific Railroad that crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains to hook up with Union Pacific Railroad. Sisson, Wallace & Co. provided supplies for California’s railroads during construction. The company procured Chinese laborers for railroad and construction companies. It undoubtedly provided the Chinese laborers at the Klawock cannery for the first year of operation.
In 1878, men unloaded over one hundred tons of freight from a coastal steamer in Klawock, shipped from California. A sawmill was set up and began to cut lumber to renovate Hamilton’s saltery. Men installed machinery for curing, salting, boiling and canning salmon. The Chinese workers made 350,000 cans by hand. One report tells of over 150 people, including fishermen, working at the Klawock cannery that first year. Although a cannery in Sitka was constructed the same year, actual packing of salmon started later in the summer than in Klawock and the operation lasted but a short time. Thus, Klawock is considered the first cannery in Alaska.
The managers were optimistic about the number of cases of 24 cans that it could pack. Only 5,400 cases were filled – a use of 129,600 cans. This was twice as many cases as the cannery at Sitka.
The CALIFORNIA took the resulting pack to Astoria and Portland, Oregon for distribution by Lunde and Hough.
The salmon canning industry started in Alaska with infusion of money by San Francisco men who had been instrumental in development of California.
Not the original Klawock cannery, but a Klawock cannery, nonetheless. This is the Peratrovich cannery in 1936.
Image courtesy Pat Roppel.