The majority of the cannery labels the Archives holds date from 1880 to 1900 and were used by companies in Astoria. Other labels come from canneries in Coos County, Portland, Tillamook, Celilo in Wasco County and Anacortes, Washington. The labels sent to the Secretary of State were generally nine by four inches in size, and had bright red, yellow, or blue backgrounds with frilly graphic designs around the edges. Often the labels had illustrations of salmon the size of porpoises flying through the air just above the surface of a calm sea.
Since the canneries had the art work for the labels completed by lithographers in San Francisco, Philadelphia, or New York, the accuracy of the illustrations varies. One label implies that an oddly shaped Mt. Hood can be seen from Tillamook Bay. Another depicts an "Esquimaux" spearing salmon in an Arctic mountain range. Nevertheless, the labels give insight into popular views of the Northwest in the 1880s.
The illustrations touch on several classical, historical, frontier, and political themes and myths designed to sell products to the late nineteenth century consumer. Illustrations include a large screaming eagle perched on a globe on the S.D. Adair & Co. label; a Spartan-like warrior armored with a sword and shield protected the Invincible Brand salmon can. Another label shows the figure of a cherub riding an oversized salmon which is controlled by horse reins. The Thistle Packing Co. placed a cooked salmon on a platter which was held up by a Greek column.
Labels that give a popular sense of history include the Ocean Canning Co. of Astoria which showed Indians landing a canoe full of salmon at their waterside teepee encampment.
Another label pictures not only the cannery manager, a man with a very long beard, but also the cannery complex. The view of Badollet & Companies cannery shows a large barn-like building built on stilts along the shore of the Columbia River near Astoria. Smaller out-buildings on the same platform are connected to the main building. A huge smokestack is held up by three tightened wires. A long pier with a small building at the end juts out from the cannery into the river where boats are docking. Several fishermen in boats are pulling in nets. A dense forest of evergreens on a steep river bank and a range of mountains are shown in the background.
The labels also give cooking directions and measures to take to ensure the salmon was safe to eat. One company claimed no lead alloy was used in their can. Another promised a "choice middle cut" of "extra fine fat salmon fresh from the nets." The directions mentioned that the salmon could be served cold or hot, but warned consumers to boil the can for 20-30 minutes before opening. Although the salmon was canned in Oregon, most of the distribution was done in San Francisco.
The salmon canning industry trademarks can be used by researchers interested in nineteenth century Oregon commercial development and printing or other research subjects. Other groups of trademarks in the Archives include patent medicines, clothing, mill products, canned fruit, liquor, ice cream, and various business establishments.
(Text from Historical Perspectives, Newsletter of the Oregon State Archives, Winter 1991 Vol. VI, No. 1, written by Greg Williams)
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