Then and now: Reminiscences of a Packer Man - in 1923
A few years ago, Larry Danielson — a retired former employee of the Red Book (now Produce Market Guide) — mailed The Packer a slim 89-page paperback book.
He no doubt was sorting and pitching old stuff, but he wanted to send the aged book to someone that would have an interest in it. I’m glad he did.
The book was titled “Reminiscences of A Packer Man,” authored by Thomas G. Casey in 1923.
Later this year The Packer will publish its 125th-anniversary edition of The Packer. That publication, following the models of previous anniversary editions marking 75 years in 1968 and the massive Century of Produce in 1993, will both look back and peer over the horizon.
The recollections by Casey, published nearly a century ago, reflect on his 25-year career at The Packer. That alone puts in perspective how long The Packer has served the industry.
Here is Casey’s recollection of The Packer’s beginning.
THE PACKER—A BRIEF HISTORY FROM THOMAS G. CASEY:
"The Packer was founded In February 1893, by I.N.Barrick. Mr. Barrick conceived the idea of getting out a periodical to represent the meat packing industry and its allied interests, so The Kansas City Packer was born. Its news matter covered the livestock business, as well as provisions, such as salt and smoked meats and canned meat products. After canvassing around for advertising. Mr. Barrick finally got the Armour Packing Company to take a five-column space each week.
However, The Packer had not gone on for any length of time before Mr. Barrick saw the handwriting on the wall. The chances of a paper devoted to the meat packing industry making any kind of progress were becoming very slim. The industry was gradually simmering down to five or six large packing houses, and they were establishing branch houses in every nook and corner of the country. For that reason, they had no use for a medium to either quote country merchants or to reach producers of livestock.
But the circulation that The Packer had worked up, not only among farmers but principally among country merchants, proved of inestimable value to another line of business—the produce business.
In those days, the country merchant was, for the most part, the collector of poultry, country butter and eggs, and, therefore, he became the shipper. In many sections, the country merchant financed and marketed the fruit and vegetable crops for the smaller growers. So that was a mighty valuable list of readers for advertisers in the produce trade, and the first few who placed their advertisements in The Packer were swamped with business by mail and wire from the four corners of the country, so as to go to press on Friday.
For several years, this could not be done and it was then necessary to issue the paper on Saturday.
In the spring of 1904, about six months after the death of Mr. Barrick, George A. Gurley, the present head of the Barrick Publishing Company, took charge.
However, while the meatpacking phase was gradually fading out of The Packer’s columns and the produce patronage was slowly being developed, the paper carried a good deal of mail order business, such as you would find in the average farm journal. It was this kind of business that helped to pay expenses.
Considerable thought was given later to the advisability of changing the name of the paper, but it was finally decided to leave it as it was. First, because The Packer had already a pretty good circulation among shippers; secondly, because The Packer was an odd name and, at the same time, it was easy to remember. In a way, it covered one branch of the produce business—the packing end of it.
Mr. Barrick was a hustler. His heart and soul were in The Packer. He never let up working, and he was a crack salesman. He really believed that there was not an ache or a pain in the commercial world that advertising would not cure, and had he been in the mercantile business, there is no doubt that he would have been a big success because of his firm belief in advertising.
Mr. Barrick died suddenly in the fall of 1903 at Excelsior Springs, Mo., where he was taking a rest. His heart had been troubling him and it was that trouble which took him away while sitting in the parlor of the hotel.
I was in New York then, as we had started The New York Packer two years before.
Plans at that time were to make The Packer a national produce journal. Kansas City is in about the geographical center of the United States. The idea was to establish different editions in the largest and most advantageous markets of the country and mail and wire in all the news and advertisements to the central office. By issuing the paper Friday in Kansas City, The Packer would beat the eastern trade journals to the Pacific Coast by two or three days with all the eastern news. It would also beat the coast papers to the East by three or four days with all the western news. At the same time, it would carry the news of the entire United States, covering all important market centers, as well as shipping districts, to the central West within fifteen hours after the paper went to press.
The Chicago Packer was started in 1899, The Cincinnati Packer in 1900, The New York Packer in 1901 and The Pacific Coast Packer in 1909.
Up to 1920, the paper covered the growing, shipping and marketing of fruits, vegetables, butter, eggs and poultry, but it was in 1920 that The Produce Packer was established, this edition to be devoted only to butter, eggs, poultry, etc., while the original Packer was left to take care of fruits and vegetables. This change was made necessary or two reasons. One reason was that the paper was growing in size rapidly. Another was because of the fact that the trade, as well as shippers, are running more to specialties these days.
Twenty-five years ago the great majority of the merchants who handled fruits and vegetables also handled poultry, butter and eggs, but in recent years specialization is becoming more and more general, so in the establishing of The Produce Packer, the fruit and vegetable readers did not any longer have to wade through a lot of butter, egg and poultry news to get what they wanted, nor did the butter, egg and poultry men have to continue to read an endless number of fruit and vegetable headlines to find what they wanted in the paper."
TK: Look for many more recollections from the past issues of The Packer (and excerpts from Casey) as we work on bringing together the 125th Anniversary edition later this year. By the way, I would love to have submitted columns from industry members looking back at the changes in the business they have seen, and looking forward to what may be around the corner. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.