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Local History Index:

Waukesha Canning Co. History

Transcribed and Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Last Revised 06/07/2009

 by Fred H. Keller, published, Sussex Sun, Retrospect, February 19, 2008

About a century ago, local farmers started taking their sweet peas to a new canning business on Milwaukee Avenue (today's Silver Spring Road), the Waukesha Canning Co., which opened a pea vinery about 1908-12.

The vinery station was just east of Sussex Creek in the valley adjacent to today's BP Petro Pantry on a flat piece of land that is today occupied by a side-by-side duplex at N62 W23433 Silver Spring Road.

The late Roy Stier gave me some photos of the viner in 1979. This one shows a work crew out front, including Edgar Brown (eighth from the left), a steam engine owner who ran the vinery. (Using his steam engine for the pea viner made Brown some additional money before August, when Lisbon farmers used the engine for threshing.)

The farmers would first cut down the ripe vines with horse-drawn mowers, then fork them up onto horse-drawn wagons for delivery to the vinery. (The village kids loved the pea vining season, pilfering the slow horse-drawn wagons for fresh peas.)

The farmer would unload the vines at the vinery, where they were fed into complicated machinery that would separate the peas from the vines and pods. The peas would then be loaded into 50-pound boxes and whisked to a box car on a Wisconsin Central Railroad side track. The car was then shunted down the line to the Waukesha Canning Co. on Barstow Street in Waukesha for processing.

The residue from the vinery was stacked up in huge piles behind the structure, and allowed to rot (or "cure," as some would have it). Green juice from the stacked and compressing vines would leach out of the pile, according to Stier, and color Sussex Creek a sickly green all the way down to Lisbon Road.

The rotting pile of pea vines were picked up by farmers as winter came on. They fed them to their cows, but only after they had been milked, because the pungent smell could affect the taste of the milk. Stier likened the smell to a broken bottle of ammonia spilled in a rotten outhouse.

The viner disappeared in 1912 when the Waukesha Canning Co. went out of business, so Lisbon farmers stopped planting or harvesting peas, an alternate crop for most of them, for the next nine years. Then in September 1920, the Kramer family built Mammoth Spring Canning Co., which put a vinery station right in downtown Templeton the next year.

The stench forced the company to move the vinery station to where Quad/Tech is today. Technology cured the problem eventually with in-field pea viners, which provided an additional benefit: the pea vines and pods left behind enriched the ground for the next year's crop - without passing through a cow first.

HERE AND GONE - This late 1920s or early 1030s aerial photo of the Mammoth Spring Canning Co. shows Waukesha Avenue on top and Main Street in the lower left-hand corner, without the many residential houses and small businesses that have were built there afterward. The cannery itself was built in 1920 and went out of business in 1996.

New photo provides another look at old Mammoth Spring

by Fred H. Keller,

published, Living Sussex Sun, Retrospect, May 11, 2009

The Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society recently received a late 1920s or early 1930s aerial photo of Sussex- Templeton's Mammoth Spring Canning Co.

Notable features include the two-story Lannon-stone company office just left of the center of the photo and the Bug Line Railroad Depot midway down the left edge. At the other end of the tracks on the right edge of the photo are three box cars on a sidetrack.

Above the tracks on the right edge you can find the former Holman-Elliott quarry filled with water. This became the Sussex area swimming hole in 1916 after the quarry kilns, warehouses and offices burned down.

It was closed to organized swimming and fenced off in 1991 and is now shrouded by overgrown trees, out of sight and almost out of memory. The 20-foot deep quarry pond is now full of stunted fish and the giant walleyed pike who feed on them.

The round pile in the center is not a structure but spent pea vines, waste output from the pea vinery machines. Farmers used to spend all late fall and winter hauling these rotting pea vines to their cows, who thrived on them. The spent vines smelled to high heaven, like a cross between the vilest outhouse and liquid ammonia.

Finally, in the early 1940s, this pea vinery was moved to where Quad/Graphics and QuadTech are today.

The Mammoth Spring Canning Co. operated for more than 75 years, from September 1920 to the shipping of its last processed crop in March 1996.

According to pages 486-488 of "The Story of Wisconsin 's Great Canning Industry," published in 1949, the Kraemer family of Richfield came to Sussex soon after World War I. Kurt Kneiske said they bought the burned-down Holman-Elliott quarry kiln business in Templeton (east Sussex) in about 1918 for a reported $50,000 and then set to establishing a canning company.

Local farmers, business people and the local banker bought stock in the future canning company for $100 a share, yielding another $12,400 to establish the factory on the former quarry site.

Philip Kraemer served as the company's first president. Its first board of directors included P.W. Kraemer, E.A Kraemer, A.G. Kraemer, John P. Kraemer, Sussex banker J.W. Cannon, plus local farmer and businessmen John P. Stier and Walter M. Hardiman.

A local doctor, Cornelius Gruelich, wanted to join the board, and when he was not appointed, he raised a ruckus. John P. Kraemer quickly stepped forward and scraped together some additional money and bought out Gruelich's stock. It was a poor financial decision for Gruelich as the stock generated steady dividends and gained in value over the years.

The first products canned were locally grown peas in 1921, enough to keep two factory lines going.

The factory provided summer employment for many Sussex-Lisbon people, and a source of income for the farmers who raised the crops not just peas, but corn, beets, carrots, beans and other vegetables.

John P. Kraemer became the dominant force in the company, leading to his appointment as both general manager and sales manager in 1924. Kneiske later became the production manager and succeeded John Kraemer as company president after the Korean War.

Other notable company bigwigs were Laverne Clarey, who took over as factory manager in 1944 from Henry Yuds, who had served as factory superintendent from 1921 to 1944. The Stolper family first E. A. Stolper, then his son, Carl also became involved in the business.

The canning company eventually expanded, adding a plant in Astico, only to trade it in for canning plants in Eden.

During World War II, German prisoners of war worked at the cannery. After the war, Mexican-Americans from Texas started to take over the production jobs, but a sizable group of local citizens also continued to be a big part of this large-scale enterprise.

Scott Ladd bought out the company in the mid 1960s. He later sold the company to Friday Canning, which, in turn, was bought out by Chiquita Brands in the 1990s. Chiquita ran it for a few years. They closed it and eventually sold it to Bielinski Homes.

The developer tore down the canning company between August and October 2003, but had to postpone plans for the site because of Bielinski Homes' many business problems.


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Copyright Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society, Inc., , 2002 - 2016, Except as noted: All documents placed on the website remain the property of the contributors, who retain publication rights in accordance with US Copyright Laws and Regulations. In keeping with our policy of providing free information on the Internet, these documents may be used by anyone for their personal research. They may be used by non-commercial entities, when written permission is obtained from the contributor, so long as all notices and submitter information are included. These electronic pages may NOT be reproduced in any format for profit. Any other use, including copying files to other sites, requires permission from the contributors PRIOR to uploading to the other sites. The submitter has given permission to the website to store the file(s) for free access. Such permission may be revoked upon written notice to the website webmaster. Website's design, hosting, and maintenance are donated by Website Editor & Webmaster: Michael R. Reilly (Mike)