Photo: Unloading Can Stock (1948)
Photo: Unloading Can Stock (1948)
A photo from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Libraries:
Click on the arrows and scroll on the photo to enlarge it.
Looks very monotonous.
Unloading cans, not can stock.
Can stock would be flat sheets.
When I was in H.S. I worked in a salmon cannery. Our cans all came to us
fully made up (no lid) in large cardboard boxes of perhaps 1000 cans at a
time. The box was the size of a pallet on the bottom and about 4 feet tall.
I worked in the warehouse crew and the cans came in box cars, were
off loaded by driving a fork lift into the car and picking them up. They
were stacked 2 'cases' tall in the box car with the pallet already under
them and strapped to the pallet with two 3/4" wide metal straps. From
the warehouse they went up to the 2nd story (lifted up by fork lift) and
were stored in "the can loft" which was over the canning lines. The
box straps were cut off and the top opened up and they were put into
a sort of hopper/feeder that the cans rolled out of and down to the
canning machines by gravity. The canning machines 'took' one can
at a time from the gravity line and put it in front of a ram where the
salmon was rammed into it (after having been cut to length). The
ram went back and forth ... bang, bang, bang ... several times a
minute (perhaps once a second) and every time it took a can the
cans in the gravity line would advance.
The lids were shipped in the same box cars with the cans and
were in boxes of several hundred at a time - perhaps one box of
lids held the number needed for one box of empty cans? The
lids were also put on the cans by machine - between the canning
machine with the ram and the lidding machine was a line of
workers (all women - then) that trimmed up the weight of the
can to a perfect pound/half pound/quarter pound by adding a
bit or two of salmon.
After the lids were put on and sealed the cans were stacked on
steel racks (think 'trays') and the trays were stacked up on a
small wheeled dolly (think RR wheels) that was pushed by hand
to the retort where it was cooked under steam pressure for a
long time (3 or 4 hours). Then it was brought out and sent to
the labeling line, put into cases, stacked on pallets ... and
shipped out by rail to 'the world' (usually went East out of
I also worked in another salmon cannery. This one was in Hawk
Inlet, Alaska and it had a similar operation - the differences being
that the cans came in by ship and the entire cannery was powered
by a boiler driving a stationary steam engine driving an overhead
belt power system that had 12" (?) bents running around wheels
of approximately 18" in diameter. You can see an overhead belt
powered system if you look for pictures of the Sierra Railroad's
roundhouse in Sonora, Ca.
One of the symmetries of shipping to be filled cans in those
cardboard boxes is that the number of car loads of cases was
essentially identical to the number of car loads of outbound
I can't imagine the kind of operation in this picture lasted very
long before it was replaced by the boxes of cans style. The "rails"
the guy is setting up in that picture are similar to how the cans in
the canneries moved from the can loft to the canning machines.
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I’m coming late to the party here, but just another tidbit. At one time they did actually stack the cans loose in rows inside the box cars. I don’t know when that practice may have ended but the photo Bob shows is dated 1948 and the cans must be stacked loose to use the conveyor like in the photo. They unloaded them by using “rake” to take them off the stacked rows and lay them in the conveyor like in the photo. The lids probably were shipped in boxes though as I can see no way of loading them “loose.” Here is a Library or Congress photo of unloading cans with a rake dated 1939. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/fsa.8b37180/ Perhaps the method of shipment depended on the size and shape of the cans. I can see where narrow, deep cans could be bulk loaded without boxes, but I would think wide, shallow cans would be a disaster if loaded bulk without being in boxes. So maybe vegetable and fruit cans were bulk loaded and fish cans in boxes?
From: main@RealSTMFC.groups.io <main@RealSTMFC.groups.io> On Behalf Of Jim Betz
Sent: Saturday, April 24, 2021 8:40 AM
Subject: Re: [RealSTMFC] Photo: Unloading Can Stock (1948)
[Edited Message Follows]
I'm also a little late to the party on can loading in boxcars. The Ahnapee & Western in Wisconsin had customers that received cans in bulk. Evangeline Milk Company produced condensed milk for First National Stores in Boston, Mass. In our era, they received carloads of baby vent-hole cans from Weirton, WV that were loaded in bulk rows and unloaded with the 'rakes' that Doug mentioned. The cans rolled down a 'rollway gravity conveyor' into a lift that brought them up into the can loft where they would be added to the canning line and fed by gravity. See attached image of unloading.
The cherry canneries in Sturgeon Bay received cans differently. Theirs were loaded in bags in the car, and unloaded mostly via team tracks into trucks for delivery to the offline canning plants. Evangeline Milk would sometimes receive bagged cans also, and they later sourced from can plants nearer than WV.
See some sample waybills from the mid-60s here: