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Salmon Trademarks Teacher Resources


This map extract shows the locations of salmon canneries on the Columbia River and Oregon Coast. Click on image to enlarge.

Answers to grades 4-6 study questions

Answers to grades 7-9 study questions

Background information
Toward the end of the nineteenth century when Oregon's salmon canning industry was in its prime, the canneries along the Columbia River promoted their own brands of canned salmon by using labels with slogans, trademarks, and illustrations. with twenty-nine canneries operating in 1889, the competition was extensive and the product was not unique, at least along the Lower Columbia River. It became popular for canneries to protect their trademarks by registering the labels with the Secretary of State under Oregon's 1864 trademark law. Canned salmon trademarks were among the most frequently registered products during the first forty years of the law. The labels are now in the custody of the State Archives.

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.

Click on image to enlarge

This is a 1937 photograph of Indians fishing for salmon at Celilo on the Columbia River in Wasco County. The men stand on platforms and fish for the salmon with nets on long poles (dip netting). Overhead are the cables used to transport people in a small cable car to an island in the river. The Celilo Falls are in the background. The construction of The Dalles Dam covered the Celilo Falls in 1957. Oregon Highway Division photo #G211, Oregon State Archives.


Several labels portray fishermen, their boats and gear, lighthouses, and large sailing vessels on the Pacific Ocean or Columbia River. The fishermen were often shown wearing squall hats, knee-high boots, Mackintosh overcoats, and heavy beards.

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.

Click on image to enlarge

This is a 1939 photograph of horse seining on the Columbia River near Astoria in Clatsop County. Horses are used to pull in the fishing nets to the shore or to the boats. This photo shows men loading a net onto a boat. Two teams of horses are in the shallow water pulling on other nets. Oregon Highway Division photo #1296, Oregon State Archives.


Another company shows a rugged Northwesterner standing on a log using a large pole to guide the log through rapids. In an effort to catch the Anglo-American market British themes were used to promote the English Flag and Victoria Cross brands. An attempt to capture regional markets or perhaps to avoid insult was made by the Portland Packing Co. when it registered its Robert E. Lee brand, with silver-grey edges, on the same day in 1892 it registered its General U.S. Grant brand.

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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