by Kevin Hybels
Norwich 1 – 10: In this series of ten posts we will be looking at a variety of objects in the historical society’s collection to see what they reveal about Norwich’s past.
This first object is a can that once held canned corn from the Norwich Canning Company. The canning company was a cooperative company founded by the Citizens Improvement Association in the 1890s. On June 18, 1892, the Hanover Gazette reported that “work opened on the building for the corn canning factory this week.”
The canning factory was located on Elm Street near Blood Brook and the tannery, and operated for several weeks each fall during the harvest. In 1894, its daily output was about 5,000 cans, which were sold locally as well as in Manchester and Boston. A September 12, 1894 article in the Hanover Gazette says that “they have been in operation about 10 days now and expect to continue a few days longer… The corn is rapidly gaining a name for itself on the market. The corn itself is of the best quality and the cleanliness of everything about the factory could not fail to impress the visitor.” In 1895, the corn sold for seven cents a can.
The same article, titled “How Corn is Canned: Interesting Processes at the Norwich Canning Factory” contains a description of what it would have been like to visit the canning factory in the fall. “The stranger who happens to drive over through Elm Street in Norwich just at this season of the year might be surprised at the groups of people husking great piles of corn by the roadside just opposite the tannery. Then he will hear the rumble of busy machinery inside a near-by building and wonder what is going on.”
Farmers brought carts full of corn and dumped them by the side of the road near the canning company, where workers husked the corn and brought it inside the factory in baskets. The corn was then fed into a cutter machine, with the cobs ejected and the kernels dropping into a pan below. Next the corn went through a silker, a machine with long wire fingers that removed the threads, before a machine put the corn inside cans along with a little bit of water. Another machine removed any stray kernels of corn from the top of the can, and the sealed cans were placed in big perforated pans and dropped into a big tank of water kept hot by a steam pipe running into it, with the canned corn being boiled between 20 and 30 minutes. This boiling process caused steam to form inside the cans, so each can was pricked before being resealed in order to let out the steam. The cans were placed in a large iron retort and baked for one hour at 242 degrees Fahrenheit. After this, they were plunged into cold water, cooled, inspected, and dried, with labels being applied on the outside of each can.
We don’t know when the Norwich Canning Company closed, but it was successful for several years during the 1890s. While they mostly canned corn, they also canned apples, pumpkins, squash, and tomatoes. Today, one of their cans is preserved in the Norwich Historical Society’s collection.