Gilbert Van Camp, Sr. is the originator, or at least one of the originators, of canned food as we know it today. In 1861,Van Camp, who once was a tinsmith, and thus familiar with the technology of making tin cans, came up with the idea of putting vegetables and fruit in tin cans, so they could be preserved for later use. At that time, Van Camp and his wife Hester, ran a grocery store in Indianapolis, and they were thus familiar with the needs and desires of their customers. So when and why did Van Camp switch to canned beans in tomato sauce? It is highly likely that he switched to beans and tomato sauce in tin cans, because he saw a potential and lucrative business in supplying the canned beans for use to the United States Army, where beans were a staple, but not in canned form.
Having the beans with tomato sauce in cans provided the armed forces with cooked and already prepared, and tasty food, available at any time. At that time, the Van Camp canned beans were even advertised for either hot or cold consumption. Also note that 1861 was at the beginning of the Civil War. And during the Civil War, Van Camp was able to get a contract with the Union Army for the supply of canned beans to the army. It was probably a lucrative contract.
The lucrative army contract enabled Van Camp to establish a reputation for canned fruits and vegetables, and especially for canned beans with tomato sauce. During the next 70 years, Van Camp’s canned food apparently did quite well. In 1933, Van Camp Canning was still in business, and in that year the company was sold to James and John Stokely. From that point on the name of the company became Stokely-Van Camp Inc. The well known brand name of Van Camp’s pork and beans is still around today, under the same name Van Camp used during the Civil War. The beans with the tomato sauce, or ketchup, are still the main ingredients. Gilbert Van Camp’s son or grandson, Frank, who took over the business along the way, is credited with the recipe which added pork and replaced the tomato sauce with ketchup.
In 1914, the younger generation of the Van Camp family, headed up by Frank Van Camp moved to California, and bought the California Tuna Canning Company, which canned and sold albacore tuna. Shortly after their purchase of the company, the Van Camp’s renamed it Van Camp Seafood Company. In the 1930’s, the Van Camp Sea Food Company began acquiring its own fishing fleet. During the postwar period, the sea food brand name was changed to Chicken of the Sea tuna, a name it still retains until today. In 1963, Van Camp Sea Food was acquired by Ralston Purina, a large producer of processed food, pet food, and livestock and poultry feeds. By this time, Frank Van Camp was getting older, and Gilbert Van Camp, Jr., Frank’s son took over the business.
So what happened to Van Camp’s pork and beans while the younger generation of the Van Camp’s had gone in the tuna canning business. Well the brand name certainly did not die out. It is not known whether the Van Camp family retained the company or whether it was sold to another owner. But in 1983, the Stokely-Van Camp brand name passed on to Quaker Oats when it bought the Stokely-van Camp Company. And in 1995, the large food processor Conagra Foods purchased the Stokely-Van Camp brand from Quaker Oats. So while the descendants of Gilbert Van Camp, Sr. had left the bean and vegetable canning business many years ago, the original brand name of Van Camp’s pork and beans is still around to this day.
The above details of how Van Camp’s canned beans originated may be partially fictional. What is true, however, is the fact that Gilbert Van Camp, Sr. was the originator of canned beans which became available around the early 1860’s. Since that is fact, it is hard to imagine that the canned beans were not used by the soldiers in the Civil War. Whether there ever was a Union Army contract is not clear.
Van Camp’s, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Van_Camp’s
Welcome to Chicken of the Sea International, http://www.chickenofthesea.com/company.aspx
History of Van Camp’s Beans Is Utterly Mangled, http://www.metnews.com/articles/2006/reminiscing072006.htm
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