Editor’s note: The 2019 Vinton 150 Celebration will include a sweet corn event, which is a tribute to Vinton’s history of being one of the first canning operations west of the Mississippi River. Today’s historical review focuses on some of that corn canning history.
11 million cans of corn.
1,300 workers earning a total of approximately $100,000 over a span of just more than four weeks.
6,600 acres of area farmland devoted to sweet corn varieties such as Evergreen and Country Gentleman.
That is what a 1925 newspaper article cited as the approximate number packed by hundreds of workers in five local facilities, including Vinton’s Seed House.
For decades local residents and even regional media referred to Vinton as the unofficial Sweet Corn Capital of the U.S.
The Flood of 2008 damaged Vinton’s famous corn canning facility building, but also led to the opportunity for locals to revisit its history.
The Vinton Canning Seed House at 201 First Avenue, now owned by Joseph and Peggy Schott of Vinton, July 2011 storm.
In 2012, the Schotts received a $38,500 grant from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs to help cover the estimated $68,000 cost of fixing the roof.
Also, in 2012, the Seed House joined the National Register of Historic Places.
The facility is linked to some of the most well-known names in Vinton history, and was both one of the first of its kind and one of the largest. The operation continued producing millions of cans each year until the 1950s, when farmers switched to growing hybrid corn instead of sweet corn.
A state historical assessment of the site include the following information:
The major historic resource in the neighborhood is the factory warehouse at 201 1st Avenue, which operated under various owners and business names through the years. The earliest available Sanborn Map shows the warehouse as S.H. Watson Canning Company in 1885. Later maps show the building as the Cedar Valley Packing Company in 1892; the Vinton Canning Company in 1899, 1906, 1913, and 1921; and the Iowa Canning Company in 1941. The original business appears to have been established by Samuel H. Watson, a Vinton pioneer, successful banker, and holder of school and town offices.
During the 1890s the canning factory operated under several names with a change to the Kelley Canning Company in ca. 1892. W.C. Ellis, Frank G. Ray and H.B. Kelley served as its owner-officers. In 1895 it was reorganized as the Vinton Canning Company, one of several plants operated as part of the Iowa Canning Company. In the 1890s it was described as the first corn canning factory west of the Mississippi. A decade later in 1905 it had branch factories in La Porte City, Garrison and Shellsburg processing nearly 9 million cans of corn annually under 23 brands. The Vinton operation’s capacity alone exceeded 3 million cans annually including such brands as “Vinton Blue,” “Vinton Yellow,” “Vinton Red,” “Vinton Green,” “Vinton Black,” “Iowa’s Pride,” and “Iowa Chief.” 250 workers are employed during the peak season before World War I.
A 1925 edition of the Vinton Eagle indicated that 11 million cans was the total output for that particular growing season. See that story here: vintoncanningstoryeagleoct11925
A U of Iowa / Annals of Iowa story mentions Vinton as an important part of the early days of the food canning industry in Iowa. You can see that story HERE.