Bio-Pen Pictures

            Dr. James M. Dawson, the pioneer fruit-packer in the Santa Clara Valley, put up the first canned fruit for the market, in 1871.  From observation of the superior quality of the fruits then grown in the valley, Dr. Dawson foresaw the marvelous possibilities of its climate and soils for fruit production as a factor of commerce on the Pacific Coast; and he also realized that, for the fruit industry to attain any considerable importance, it was a prime necessity that means should be provided to prepare and preserve the fruits for commerce in the immediate vicinity of where they were grown.  Acting upon these convictions, and stimulated by the wise counsel and hearty co-operation of his wife, Mr. Dawson resolved to make the experiment of starting a fruit cannery in this valley.  An ordinary cooking range was purchased and placed in a 12x16 shed kitchen in the rear of their residence, on the Alameda; and on this the fruits were all heated before being placed in the cans.  The fruits were obtained by Mr. and Mrs. Dawson driving about the neighborhood and purchasing them in small lots, and paying five to eight cents per pound for them.  The season’s pack, consisting of three hundred and fifty cases of fruits and tomatoes, was made in this modest manner.  Dr. Dawson thought to demonstrate to Eastern people the superiority of California fruits to those of their own States; and in this respect the fine appearance and excellent flavor of his experimental effort proved entirely satisfactory.  The next year the base of operations was changed to San Jose, the cannery being located on Sixteenth and Julian Streets, in an orchard, and a partnership formed with W. S. Stevens, a brother-in-law.  The pack that season was double that of the first.

            The third year, 1873, another addition was made to the firm, including Lendrum, Burns & Co., grocers, the firm name being J. M. Dawson & Co.  A large building was erected on the corner of Fifth and Julian Streets, in which the pack of that season was made, which reached eight thousand cases.  A year or two later the business was incorporated under the title of San Jose Fruit Packing Co., Dr. Dawson being made president.  The plant was enlarged, and the pack increased to twenty-five thousand cases a year.  The business continued in this way till 1878, when, the cares and responsibilities proving too great for his failing health, Dr. Dawson disposed of his interest and retired.  The trade had extended beyond the limits of California and across the mountains to the Eastern cities.

            In 1879 Dr. Dawson returned to his place on the Alameda, and resumed the business in a moderate way, in a building erected for the purpose in the rear of their residence, under his individual name, J. M. Dawson.  The following year he took in his son, E. L. Dawson, as an equal partner, the firm title becoming “The J. M. Dawson Packing Company.”  The plant was enlarged from year to year, the frontage changed to Myrtle Street, and the pack correspondingly increased.

            In 1883 Dr. Dawson retired, placing the active management in the hands of his son, the junior partner, who has conducted the business ever since.  The old gentleman’s health steadily declined, and he passed away in March, 1885.  His interest in the business passed into the hands of the widow, who is still a joint owner with her son, under whose enterprising management it has prospered and grown.  The pack and sale of canned goods by the firm in 1887 was over one hundred and forty thousand cases, giving employment during the busy season to from three hundred to five hundred hands.  The aim of the Dawson Packing Company has always been for the highest standard of excellence in the quality of their goods, and no brand of canned fruits ranks higher.  Great strides of improvement have been made in the methods of fruit-packing during the past few years, as the result of much study and experimenting.  The fruit is cooked by steam, after being put into the cans cold, and, wherever possible, machinery has taken the place of hand labor, and the process expedited and cheapened many fold, while the quality of the goods has been improved.  This personal thought and study have developed methods somewhat independent of each other, which are, in a measure, the private and secret property of their respective discoverers; therefore the fruit is handled in each establishment in a manner peculiarly its own.

            James M. Dawson was a native of Maryland, born in 1809.  Came to Ohio a young man, where he studied and practiced medicine a few years.  He removed to Iowa in 1851, and from there came to California, in 1870.  While in Iowa he married Eloise Jones.  The widow, two sons, and a daughter, survive him.  Mrs. Dawson and the daughter reside in the pleasant homestead on the Alameda.  E. L. Dawson was born in 1859, and was educated in the University of the Pacific.  After leaving college he started in as an apprentice in the canning business, learning the details of every department, and thus is complete master of the situation.

Pen Pictures From The Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated. - Edited by H. S. Foote.- Chicago:  The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888.
Pg. 174-175
Transcribed by Kathy Sedler


SANTA CLARA COUNTY The Valley of Heart's Delight