Historical Society of Harford County » Special Collections » Canning Industry
The Canning Industry in Harford County dates to the 1860s when George W. Baker started an operation in his Kitchen near Aberdeen. This Industry would eventually become the second largest employer in Harford County and support local farms and products.
Harford County was well positioned for a successful canning industry. Harford County is blessed with a good climate and close proximity to transportation. Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, provided ready markets. Local entrepreneurs quickly established canning operations with approximately 100 canneries in operation across the county in any given year. Between 1880 and 1959 close to 700 cannery companies have been identified.
The canning process dates back to Napoleon Bonaparte. He initiated a competition with a 17,000 fanc reward to anyone who could develop a method to preserve and transport food to his armies. The first preservation process used glass and ceramic jars, a good start but too heavy and fragile. In 1810, the tin can was perfected in England replacing the glass jar and providing a reliable, transportable food product.
In the United States after the Civil War, immigrants were coming to the country and locating in cities working in the factories stoking the Industrial Revolution. Food storage was critical to people leaving in apartment buildings with no access to gardens, especially in the winter months.
Harford County canned mostly corn and tomatoes. Canneries typically loaned farmers the money to buy seed and fertilizer. In exchange the Cannery Owner set the schedule for planting and harvesting so he could balance the workload of the cannery. The large canneries actually established banks to help support the industry thus benefitting another business in Harford County.
The decline of the Canning Industry came about for a variety of reasons. The establishment of Aberdeen Proving Grounds eliminated 500 acres of prime farming land and several canning operations. Transportation improved allowing canneries out West and down South to compete with the local operations. These parts of the country had longer growing seasons or multiple seasons. As canning operations failed, Harford County farmers switched from farming to raising dairy cows. The last can of Harford County canned corn was shipped in 1999.
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