This is an age of mammoth industries, of important enterprises and extensive business concerns of diversified character, and at the head of such interests stand men of marked energy, keen discernment and strong executive force. Of such a class is Joseph H. Hunt a representative, and his career excites the admiration and awakens the regard of his contemporaries and those who know aught of his history, for he started out in life empty-handed, and without the aid of adventitious circumstances or the assistance of influential friends he has steadily worked his way upward, advancing from humble surroundings to large worldly successes through the opportunity which is the pride of our American life. His ambition has enabled him to find in each forward step broader scope for his labors and a wider outlook for future possibilities and to-day he stands at the head of an institution which has contributed more than any other to the development, growth and general prosperity of Haywards, for the canning business conducted under the name of Hunt Brothers Company has been the most important factor in the industrial and commercial life of the town in which it is located.
Mr. Hunt was born in Nevada county, California, September 25, 1864. His father, W. J. Hunt, is a representative of an old American family and was born in Missouri. He came to California in 1860 and is now engaged in fruit raising at Sebastapol, California. He married Miss Lucy Jackson, who died in 1872.
The early boyhood days of Joseph H. Hunt were fraught with many hardships, difficulties and trials. His mother died when he was eight years old and the family was in limited financial circumstances. Because of this he left home to work upon a farm, and at the same time, through the inducement of his father, he attended school. When he was a boy of nearly seventeen years of age his father planted for a Santa Rosa company a large acreage of blackberries, but when the fruit reached a bearing condition the company failed and the father had to do something with the crop in order to get a return for his labors. he utilized the berries by converting them into wine and cordials, and for two years Joseph Hunt traveled about the country in a wagon loaded with the product, which he sold to local dealers. In 1884 he became a student in Pacific Methodist College, where he remained for two years, but was obliged to discontinue his studies on account of ill health. Throughout the greater part of his business career he has been connected in one capacity or another with the production of fruit or its kindred industries in California. During the year following his college course he purchased green fruit for the J. Luck Company, of Oakland, and the following year he began drying fruit in Santa Rosa. After the close of that season he was given charge of the orange packing department at Riverside of W. R. Strong & Company, of Sacramento, and thus from time to time he was promoted and gained a braoder and more comprehensive knowledge of the business in which he was destined to rise to leadership. In 1887 he went east, spending the winter in Missouri. In 1888, however, he returned to California and again entered the employ of Strong & Company, shipping oranges in the winter for that firm, while conducting his own dryer in Santa Rosa during the summer months.
It was in the summer of 1888 that Mr. Hunt embarked in the canning business on a small scale on his father's ranch near Sebastapol. Although the enterprise was a very primitive affair he packed fifteen hundred cases of fruit in that season. His brother, W. C. Hunt, who has recently departed this life, joined him in business at that time. In 1889 he built a small cannery in Sebastapol, which the following year was removed to Santa Rosa, and at that date the Hunt Brothers Fruit Packing Company was organized and succeeded to the business of the former canning company and also to that of the fruit-drying company. In 1896, however, this business was sold out and the Hunt Brothers Company was then incorporated and established a new enterprise by the erection of a cannery in Haywards. It was a comparatively small institution that began packing, but the men back of it were progressive, understood the market and the public demand and carried forward the work of improvement in various lines until a very large enterprise was that which represented the canning industry of Haywards. After the death of his brother, J. H. Hunt assumed the active management of the business and has since been at its head.
In 1901 a great fire completely destroyed the plant, leaving only a few blackened cans to makr the industry andlabor of these years. Mr. Hunt was in the east at the time and Haywards wondered whether the cannery would be rebuilt, but the town was not long left in doubt, for the company was not to be daunted by a fire and the work of reconstruction began. Everything was on a larger, more modern and complete scale than ever before, and soon the new factory, without a superior in the state, was ready to be put in operation.
The fruit canned by Hunt Brothers Company is shipped throughout the civilized world, and the label of the company upon a can is a guarantee that the fruit is of the finest quality and is packed under the direction of men thoroughly conversant with the business. No matter how large the season's output may be, it is always sold, there being no difficulty in finding a market for the product. From June until October the cannery is practically a city by itself. Not only from this immediate vicinity but from adjacent counties families come to work during the seasons. Everything possible is done for the comfort and convenience of the employes, whose privileges are such as few employes of city factories enjoy. Good wages are paid and many a person is enabled to provide for the winter by the proceeds of his labor in the summer in connection with the Hunt Brothers cannery. The company has erected one hundred and thirty comfortable cottages which are rented to workers at a nominal figure. perhaps no better estimate of the growth of the business can be given than to furnish a table showing the output of canned goods each year. In 1888 there were fifteen hundred cases, in 1889 four thousand cases, in 1890 forty-two thousand, in 1891 fifty-one thousand, in 1892 twenty thousand, in 1893 fifty thousand, in 1894 fifty thousand, in 1895 sixty-four thousand, 1896 forty-two thousand, 1897 fifty thousand, 1898 sixty-four thousand, 1899 ninety-three thousand, 1900 one hundred and twenty thousand, 1901 one hundred and fifty thousand, 1902 one hundred and eighty-three thousand, and in 1903 two hundred and forty-two thousand cases. This shows that in nine seasons the business has increased tenfold. The company packs all kinds of fruits and also tomatoes and asparagus, and the total number of the cans used in the year 1903 was about six million, which if placed end to end would stretch across the country for six hundred miles. The pay-roll, exclusive of the heads of departments and office help, from the 1st of June, 1903, until the 1st of November of the same year was ninety-five thousand dollars. Most of the money is circulated in Haywards, which indicates at a glance that the cannery is of vast benefit to the town. During the height of the season eleven hundred people were employed.
The company is now building another factory in Antioch, where asparagus will be packed. This will be under the management of J. W. Nelson, formerly of the Oakland Preserving Company, who has recently been with the California Canners' Association. The Hunt Brothers Company also owns a fruit-packing establishment and cannery at Gridley, Butte county, California, which has a capacity of thirty thousand cases annually. The members of the company are also interested in the Hawaiian Pineapple Company of Honolulu, incorporated, and Mr. Hunt has taken a very important part in the development of the pineapple industry on the islands. The company is planting one thousand acres there as rapidly as possible to that fruit. The cannery has already been built and in a few years the output will reach several hundred thousand cases of pineapple. The company also owns two hundred acres of orchard land in Stanislaus county, California, and in Contra Costa county they have contracted with fruit growers and have done much to encourage the fruit-raising industry in this part of the state. At present the officers of the company are: J. H. Hunt, president; A. C. Baumgartner, vice president, the latter acquiring his interest about two years ago; the W. C. Hunt estate; and two or three other stockholders, whose holdings are comparatively small.
On the 29th of January, 1891, Mr. Hunt was united in marriage to Miss Margaretta Mock, who was born in Santa Rosa, California, a daughter of Wesley Mock, who is now living retired and who came to this state in 1849, settling as a pioneer in Santa Rosa. He and his wife recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. When the original ceremony took place fifty years ago James G. Fair and Robert A. Thompson were the witnesses. Not long after this Mr. Fair had to give up his house because he could not pay the rent, but as the years advanced he became one of the millionaire princes of California. To Mr. and Mrs. Hunt have been born two sons, Wesley Jackson and Joseph Harold.
In his fraternal relations Mr. Hunt is a Mason identified with various Masonic bodies and is a Knight Templar of Oakland Commandery No. 11. The business men who have been the pioneers in inaugurating and building up the chief industries in this section of the country find in Mr. Hunt a worthy representative. He has been instrumental in instituting a business concern that has proved of great value to Haywards and the surrounding districts, adding greatly to the general wealth as well as to his individual prosperity. Certainly there has come to him the attainment of a distinguished position in connection with the great material industries of the state, and he has left and is leaving his impress upon the commercial world. He is a man of distinct and forceful individuality, of broad mentality and mature judgment, and is honored and respected by all not only because of the brilliant success to which he has attained, but also by reason of the straightforward honorable business methods that he has ever followed.
Source: History of the New California Its Resources and People, Volume II
The Lewis Publishing Company - 1905
Edited by Leigh H. Irvine
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