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  • Janet Miller

From the Archives: Hinsdale Canning Association

By Janet Miller and Katharine Korte Andrew

The conclusion of World War II is now almost eight decades in the past, and the number of individuals with direct memories of D-Day has dwindled. The Historical Society was lucky enough to receive a donation from that era showing Hinsdale’s extraordinary dedication to the war effort. 

All families in the United States were encouraged to plant victory gardens. Over 1,600 of the 2,200 families in Hinsdale responded to the call.

World War II Victory Gardens poster (lithographed by the Stecher-Traung Lithograph Corporation, Rochester, New York). From the Library of Congress.

But what to do with all the produce? Many families grew much more than they could use for a single household.

The Hinsdale Canning Association was established as a volunteer effort to aid homemakers and pack the produce of the community's war gardens. In 1943, Charles J. Foster, president of the association, located some surplus equipment from an old Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in Wheaton and installed it in the basement of the Unitarian Church on Maple Street. This included pressure cooking pots, tin cans, and a device to seal them.  

The co-operative group was led by Mrs. John Lamson who took training courses, sponsored by the national government, on the canning process, and then oversaw several paid staff and many volunteers.

Soon, many women in Hinsdale were volunteering their time canning during the day. Eventually, according to a Chicago Tribune article from August 7, 1943, husbands of the members donned their aprons and did what they could to support their wives as food canners: a male night shift was organized to be on duty "to give the wives a well earned rest and to prevent spoilage in the large volume of produce which flows daily into the canning plant in the basement of the Unitarian church."

Above. Hinsdale Canning Association volunteers prepare cans with labels. circa 1944.

The center charged 5 cents for canning to cover expenses as a non-profit. Any cans created and not wanted for the family's home use could be donated to an emergency food bank. 

Above. Mrs. Louise Balch (left) of Clarendon Hills and Mrs. Lucille Bridgeman of Hinsdale peel and prepare beets for canning. August 1944.

Soon the cannery was attracting gardeners from far beyond Hinsdale, and given national recognition for its extraordinary success. Though they expected to process 25,000 cans the first year, however, within 10 weeks they had created over 60,000 cans with a grand total of over 68,000!

The second season of the cannery was moved to the former icehouse located behind the present-day police and fire station buildings. On its opening day, it had already canned 300 units. By the end of July 1944, the plant was turning out more than 2,200 cans each morning.

Above. Left to Right: Mrs. H. L. Buehler (425 E. Hinsdale Ave.), Mrs. Elsworth Keith (105 N. Grand Ave.), Mrs. R. J. Soukup (535 E. 6th St.), and Mrs. Josephine Warren (311 S. Vine), of Hinsdale bring in items to can at the Hinsdale Canning Association's cannery in 1944.

By the time of its closure in 1946, the Hinsdale Canning Association's cannery reported that 3,402 Hinsdale families canned 231,442 cans of home grown food. Additionally, they canned cigarettes, cigars, and perishable items to send to soldiers stationed abroad. Overall, 55 varieties of food were canned, including meat and poultry.

Some of the items the Hinsdale Historical Society holds in its Archives include actual labels that were used on the cans, organizational minutes of the association, government materials relating to the canning effort, and several photographs of the cannery.  

(Above) Hinsdale Canning Association Stationery. Stationery for the Canning Association lists the officers and directors. All were volunteers and include several well-known Hinsdale family names.

(Above) Hinsdale Canning Association label. The labels have gumming on the back to attach to the cans. The labels also allowed the canners to add information identifying the can contents, like "Green Beans," "Tomatoes," etc.

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