Early Canned Foods in America


When this subject came to mind for a blog, I remembered watching a John Wayne western filmed in 1948 called “3 Godfathers.” It co-starred Ward Bond. In the movie John Wayne and his compadres were outlaws on the run. They come across a wagon train that was attacked. All were killed except for a woman and her baby. When the woman dies, John Wayne and the rest vow to take care of the child and see it safely across the desert. They find a tin of Carnation milk so they make the baby bottles using that.


I wasn’t sure if canned milk really would’ve been available in the Old West so I checked. Sure enough it could have been.


In 1856, Gail Borden, an American, successfully produced sweetened condensed milk in cans for the first time and was granted a patent. With financial support, he launched the New York Condensed Milk Company in 1857. During the Civil War it was introduced on a large scale.


But to my surprise, canned fruits, vegetables, and some fish and meats were produced in 1812 by a small plant in New York. They were sold in hermetically sealed containers, not tins.


A lot of these canned goods were sold to settlers out west on the prairie.


The cans were very heavy though and difficult to open.  At first the only way to open them was with a hammer and chisel. The first can opener came out in 1858 and it was resembled a bayonet and was dangerous to use. I can only imagine! In 1870 a safer model was introduced however which was a godsend.


Through my research I learned that Del Monte didn’t produce its own brand of peaches until 1892. And Dole didn’t begin until after the turn of the century. Before that they were generic.


In 1869, Joseph Campbell and Abraham Anderson started the Anderson & Campbell Preserve Company in New Jersey. But Joseph bought Abraham out and the Campbell’s Soup Company was born.  They expanded the business to produce ketchup, mustard, and other sauces in addition to soups.  And like they say….the rest is history. I doubt you can go into a kitchen in the U.S. today and not find Campbell’s soup.


So that’s just a glance at a few of the things a pioneer might’ve packed in his wagon when he headed west.


I found this information very surprising. We couldn’t live without canned foods in this day and time. What are your thoughts? How many of you use Campbell’s soup to cook with?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

23 thoughts on “Early Canned Foods in America”

  1. Good Morning Linda

    How right you are I couldn’t live without canned foods and a Microwave. Campbell’s Chicken Noodle is the best when you are sick

    Have a Blessed Day

  2. Great article! We have a museum of a steamship (The Bertrand) that sunk in 1856. AMAZING what was on board! I don’t know why, but “ketchup” spelled with a “k” surprised me.

    (Our Amazing friend, Dawn Ford, got us a behind the scenes tour. Very cool.)

  3. Very interesting blog, Linda. “Three Godfathers” was such a great movie. I recall reading that the first “canned” food was invented by someone in Napoleon’s army. So 1812 would be about right.
    When I had family at home cooking with Campbell’s soup was a mainstay. Not so much now that it’s just me.

  4. I love this, Linda. It amazes me, too.
    How in the world did the first person to can milk ever have the nerve to TASTE IT!!!
    I’m stunned at how old canning is.
    Of course women canning and perserving in glass jars is an old skill, so switching to a manufacturing level of doing it makes some sense.
    I still can’t believe they can preserve milk though.
    And remember Pa Ingalls bought canned oysters for the family for Christmas…canned oysters, in the Midwest all those years ago. It’s amazing.

  5. Linda, very interesting post. I knew canned food had been around for a while, but I had no idea how long. I wonder if they put expiration dates on the label. Thinking probably not. 😉

  6. Good Morning, Sherry! Chicken Noodle is good for just about everything. Sometimes I eat soup for supper. It’s really tasty and filling. Plus, it’s super easy when I’m in a hurry. I also keep cans of peaches on hand for when I want something sweet. Can’t imagine life without canned food.

  7. Good morning, Sherri! Wow, it would be so interesting to tour that ship. Talk about a window back in time! I can only imagine what’s on it. Man, would I love to take that tour! Where is the ship located so I can go check it out?

  8. Good Morning, Elizabeth! You are certainly right. in 1795 — Napoleon offered 12,000 francs to anyone who can devise a way to preserve food for his army and navy. Then in 1809 — Nicolas Appert of France devised a way to preserve food in bottles. He won a prize for preserving food by sterilization. So there were certainly no shortage of innovative men. Thank God, for that. I can’t imagine the world without canned food of some kind. Have a great day, my Filly sister!

  9. Good Morning, Mary! I was stunned also to learn that putting food in cans went so far back. It’s amazing. And I wonder if those companies hired tasters and used them for guinea pigs. Too funny. I’m not sure I’d have wanted to be designated as the first one to try it. Maybe they just fed that canned milk to babies and if they didn’t die, they called it a success. I don’t know, but you’ve got me thinking.

    Also……I forgot to mention in my blog that cowboys lived on cans of pork and beans. Darn it!

  10. Good Morning, Renee! No, I’m sure they put expiration dates on those cans back then. They really didn’t know how long the food would last without spoiling. Everything was all trial and error. Glad you enjoyed my blog.

  11. Hi Linda, what a terrific post! I remember that John Wayne movie, too. And such good info on how they opened those things. Sheesh. You’d think a can opener would have been first of the things to invent LOL.

    Oh, I so do like chicken soup when I’m sick. I don’t cook a whole lot–hubby is our chef–and he loves the cream of asparagus.

    Thanks for a super subject today, Linda! I learned a ton. xo

  12. Hi Rita……….Glad you could stop by. And glad my post interested you. I try to find things that can tickle a person’s fancy. I can just close my eyes and picture a stash of canned goods on the wagon trains heading west or a lonely cowboy sitting by the campfire and opening a can of beans.

    I think a good many of us wouldn’t survive without Campbell’s Soup. I used to cook with it a lot but since I’m all alone now I don’t do much of that. Have a good day.

  13. Hi Tanya……..I’m so glad that I could bring something interesting to the site today. I learned a lot too when I looked into this subject. And yeah, those first can openers must’ve been dangerous to operate. I can’t imagine having to lug around a hammer and chisel just to open up some food. LOL Very glad for the can openers we have today. Speaking of can openers I still have an old one that belonged to my grandmother. It’s the kind that you had to stick into the can and cut your way around the top. It would take me forever and a day to use the thing.

  14. I can not imagine trying to open those old cans… sometimes my can opener has trouble with the new ones, lol! Canned food… what would we do without them.

  15. 3 Godfathers is a favorite movie. Of course as a big fan of John Wayne, any movie with him is a favorite. Canned milk is mentioned in at least two other movies of his, Mclintock is the one I can name and the lines where it is mentioned refer to the storyline in another movie. Wish I could think of the name of it.

  16. Hi Colleen……..Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hear you about the can openers. Mine goes all haywire sometimes and I have a heck of a time getting my can open. But thank goodness for those men who invented cans and canned food. Hardly anyone has a garden anymore including me. We’d all starve I fear.

  17. Hi Connie J……….I didn’t know more of John Wayne’s movies refer to canned milk besides 3 Godfathers. That’s interesting. I’ll have to watch Mclintock again and pay closer attention. Thank you for pointing that out to me. I hope you have a fantastic day!

  18. Hi Linda – Oh, love tidbits of info like how Del Monte and Campbell’s soup got their starts. I always think of canned beans on the wagon trail with cowboys. Great blog!!!

  19. Great blog, Linda. From researching I knew canned foods had been around before the turn of the century (20th LOL) but had no idea the history behind the whole thing. Really good information. I’m like the majority of you all Campbell’s Chicken and Noodle soup is exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to being under the weather. I couldn’t cook without various soups either. Thanks for sharing your great info, Miss Linda. Hugs, P

  20. Excellent post, Linda! I remember seeing cowboys eating canned peaches in Westerns. There’s always Campbell’s cream of mushroom and cream of celery in my house. It’s a family tradition. 🙂


  21. This was very interesting to me too Linda. I remember all of the canned food was in jars when I was growing up. Sure glad we have better can openers. And, yes, I do use Campbells soups and Pork and Beans. Maxie

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