8th January 1809

Canned fish king John West is born

Despite dying in 1888, John West, born this day in 1809, remains a household name, found on tins of fish in countless kitchen cupboards. Born in Linlithgow, he was unfortunately not entitled to inherit upon his father’s death, so had to make his own fortune.

John West the logger

He moved to Canada, then followed the gold rush to California and eventually settled on the Columbia River in Oregon. He occupied more than 600 acres of land, which was one of the generous parcels of land that the government was giving away – for free – to anyone who would set up a logging business.

Here, he built a steam-powered sawmill, which he eventually closed when the supply of decent-sized trees ran out. Fortunately, this wasn’t his only venture. While logging, he’d also set up a fish export business that was sending produce as far as Britain and South Africa.

Fish exporter

Initially, West’s produce was salted to preserve it through the long journey, but in 1868 he helped found the Westport Cannery on the Columbia River – and an entire town for his workers.

This was just the first of several canning operations that reduced his reliance on salt for the preservation and shipping of preserved fish. The first cannery alone was packing more than 20,000 cases of canned salmon within five years of being established, but West took things further, with the development of an automated process for filling the cans.



Other events that occured in January

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