of National Historic Landmark Designation
Astoria, Clatsop County, Oregon
Elmore Cannery, home of Bumble Bee brand canned seafoods.
National Historic Landmarks photograph.
Built in the late nineteenth century
and expanded during the twentieth century, the Samuel Elmore
Cannery became the center of salmon canning for Oregon and much
of the Pacific Northwest. This industry was a cornerstone of
the Northwest's resource-based economy from the late 1860s until
after World War II.
William Hume started the first salmon
cannery in the United States in 1864 on the Sacramento River.
When gold mining waste from upriver led to a decrease in the
salmon run, Hume and his brothers moved their business to the
Columbia River. In 1866 the Humes built the first cannery on
the Columbia at Eagle Cliff, Washington; twelve canneries were
in business between Astoria and Portland by 1874. In 1875, New
York native Samuel Elmore became an agent for R.D. Hume in San
Francisco. In this capacity, he marketed canned salmon to Australia,
New Zealand, Latin America, the Far East and England. Elmore
partnered with Joseph Hume in an Astoria cannery in 1878, and
three years later bought out Hume and built his own cannery.
By 1881, thirty-five canneries were in operation on the Columbia
River, and the size of the salmon canning industry was surpassed
only by wheat agriculture in the Pacific Northwest. Salmon were
so abundant in the early years of the industry, canneries were
not able to pack the number that were caught.
The salmon catch on the Columbia River
peaked early in the history of Columbia River canning, however.
In 1883, fifty-five canneries on the Columbia packed 630,000
cases of Chinook salmon, comprising two-thirds of the entire
Pacific Coast production. The number of salmon from the Columbia
gradually declined in subsequent years. This decline was a great
concern for the Astoria cannery owners, and some opened canneries
in Alaska to ensure their production. The first cannery was
established in Alaska in 1878 to take advantage of the large
population of ocean sockeye salmon. Many of the Astoria cannery
owners, including Samuel Elmore, owned one or more Alaska canneries
in addition to their Astoria holdings. Within ten years the
Alaska salmon pack surpassed that of the Columbia River, but
the quality of the product was not as high. The decline in Chinook
salmon led Columbia River canneries to pack sockeye salmon which
was finally able to find market acceptance. In 1891, the production
of canned salmon was greater than demand, prompting many of
the Alaska canneries to join as the loosely organized Alaska
Packers Association, an organization that set a maximum production
limit for the canneries. This approach succeeded in limiting
production; Samuel Elmore and George Hume were two of the founders
and directors of the association.
The Columbia River Fishermen's Protective
Union went on strike in 1896 to demand higher prices for their
fish, in light of the diminishing Chinook runs on the Columbia.
The cannery owners were ineffective in their efforts to deal
with the union as a united front and the fishermen were given
a slight increase in their take. The outcome of this strike
made the large Astoria cannery owners inclined to form a cooperative
agreement amongst themselves. In 1899 the Columbia River Packers
Association was incorporated; it was comprised of seven canning
companies with ten canneries along the Columbia River and a
large plant at Bristol Bay, Alaska. Samuel Elmore was the organization's
vice president and was a major force in bringing the cannery
owners to the agreement. Particularly notable about this new
venture was that each participating owner was either bought
out or given stock equal to the value of their cannery and their
land. The company then centralized operations, using the Elmore
plant as the main cannery and using the other cannery locations
for uses such as office space and cold storage.
map showing the development of the Elmore Cannery and
views of the cannery buildings.
National Historic Landmarks drawing and photographs.
Elmore constructed his first cannery
on the site in 1886; this building was later used for storage
and also as a Sunday school for the West Astoria Methodist Episcopal
church until it was destroyed by fire in 1931. In 1898 Elmore
advertised in the local paper, the Daily Morning Astorian, for
contractors to build a wharf and new cannery building. The contract
went to John Antone Fastabend, who also built canneries for
Elmore at Rooster Rock and Garibaldi. The cannery was constructed
in stages, covering four acres by 1954.
While the declaration of a national "Canned
Salmon Day" in 1914 indicates the importance of this product
to the American diet, salmon canning became a progressively
shorter season on the Columbia River due to the continuing decline
of the salmon runs. In order to increase the number of working
days at canneries, owners tried canning a variety of other products.
In the early years of salmon packing, Columbia River canneries
had tried to can Oregon beef but the product was not successful.
Over the years, crab and shrimp were also canned, but it was
with the albacore and its kin, tuna, that a year-round fish
supply was found. In 1937 large schools of albacore were found
off the coast of Oregon, and the Columbia River Packers Association
did a small canning of the fish. With initial market acceptance,
the Columbia River Packers Association constructed a major addition
to the salmon cannery in 1938-1939 to handle the new product.
Tuna was so successful on the market that another addition was
added to the Elmore plant at the end of 1939. The fact that
tuna could be frozen before canning ensured a steady supply
of fish for processing in the salmon off-season and created
year-round processing at the Elmore plant. Tuna production quickly
surpassed salmon both in terms of quantity and market recognition.
Both products were canned with the Bumble Bee' label which
is now more popularly identified with tuna.
The Samuel Elmore Cannery was designated
as a National Historic Landmark on November 13, 1966. It was
deemed nationally significant as the longest continuously-operated
salmon cannery in the United States. The Elmore Cannery was
listed in the annual report to Congress concerning threatened
Landmarks every year starting in 1977. When the cannery closed
in 1980 due to the centralization of company facilities, the
owner and the City of Astoria sought to find a new use for the
complex and encourage its preservation. The cannery was in a
very deteriorated condition, however; in 1990 the northwest
corner of the building and its support pilings collapsed. The
lack of any adaptive use for the cannery and the high costs
of rehabilitation spelled the end of the cannery. In 1991, the
City of Astoria approved demolition, but required that Historic
American Engineering Record documentation be prepared.
As the owner proceeded to dismantle the
cannery as part of demolition, it was destroyed by fire on January
26, 1993. The Landmark designation of the Samuel Elmore Cannery
was withdrawn on August 11, 1993 and the property was removed
from the National Register of Historic Places.