Evaporated Milk and the Beginning of Carnation Farms

September 6, 2018

 

Before founding the Carnation Milk Company, Elbridge A. (E.A.) Stuart had tried a number of things. He grew up in Indiana and had moved away to pursue various business ventures in Texas and California. Just before coming to Washington he ha

d been involved in a wholesale grocery. He had been brought in to help turn it around and re-energize it and although he had been successful, he was only a minority stock holder and was pushed out by the majority business partners. He was disgusted with the how things were handled, but accepted a settlement, insisting he be paid in gold.

Stuart decided to head north to look for a new opportunity. His friend, T.E. Yerxa, pitched him an idea, a new business venture. Yerxa knew of man that had the patent for evaporated milk and a bankrupt facility that could be used to produce it. Stuart had no experience with evaporated milk but knew a good idea when he saw it.

Kent Condensary

Evaporated milk was cutting edge technology at the time and the patent was extremely valuable. Most households did not have refrigeration, so a process that would preserve fresh milk was ground-breaking. Evaporated milk differs from condensed milk in the way it is preserved. Condensed milk uses large quantities of sugar, whereas evaporated milk is made by using a vacuum process with heat sterilization, and the only ingredient is fresh milk. For families, evaporated milk was a much better staple than condensed milk.

The process for evaporated milk was invented and patented by a Swiss immigrant named John Meyenberg. The method involved using a vacuum to remove two-thirds of the water content from fresh milk, turning each quart of milk into one can of evaporated milk.

Stuart and Yerxa used the proceeds from Stuart’s wholesale grocery settlement to purchase a bankrupt condensed milk plant in Kent, Washington. They joined forces with Meyenberg and on September 6, 1899 opened the Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company. On opening day, the condensery converted 2744 quarts of fresh milk into 55 cases of evaporated milk.

Early on, evaporated milk proved to be a marketing challenge.  There were already other companies selling a similar product, but Stuart was determined to produce the finest evaporated milk. Through many trials in perfecting the process, he was able to produce the best and safest product on the market. To stand out from the crowd he developed the catchy Carnation name and distinctive red and white label.

 

Original Label (1899)

 

Stuart made it his mission to introduce evaporated milk to grocers and jobbers and get his product on their shelves.  He would personally travel with a suitcase full of evaporated milk and demonstrate this convenient product. He would open a can of Carnation evaporated milk and a second can from a competitor for comparison.  After some time his hard work paid off. Carnation Evaporated Milk gained notoriety and became the household favorite. The company expanded to 40+ condenseries throughout the United States, Canada and other countries.  Carnation Evaporated Milk became a national and worldwide favorite.

For the first nine years of the Carnation Company Stuart did not own any cows or a farm. All the milk came from contract farms in the local area. However, in 1908 Stuart bought the 360 acres of farmland in the Snoqualmie Valley and that farm would lead to another ground breaking change in milk production. Rather than focusing on the milk itself, his new venture would start with the cows themselves. Stuart would embark on a selective breeding program of Holstein cows which would dramatically increase the volume of milk that cows produced, a development that would forever change the world of dairy.

 

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Barn Fire of 1926

August 10, 2018

 

On August 10th 1926, while all the farm hands were having dinner in the Mess Hall, someone noticed smoke coming from the Main Barn.  All hands sprang into action to save the barn and the cows inside.

The Main Barn was a massive 4-story structure.  The original barn construction proved to be no easy task.  With hardpan on the hillside, it was difficult to excavate.  Barn engineering plans required the removal of 24’ of hillside, and dynamite blasting proved to be the only solution. The unique design of the barn allowed hay delivery for storage and feeding to be brought by wagon loads to the top floor of the barn.  With this ingenious design the feed could be lowered to the animals instead of having to hoist the hay up into a loft for storage.

Main Barn circa 1912

 

Damp hay that was accidentally included in one of the loads had spontaneously combusted and started the fire. As soon as they could get from the Mess Hall to the Main Barn, the prize winning bulls were removed from the basement and the cows waiting for the next milking were ushered out safely.  Others hooked up fire hoses, and with water pumped from Sikes Lake (the narrow lake that parallels Carnation Farm Rd), hosed down the barn and surrounding area to keep the flames from spreading.  They continued fighting the fire throughout the night.

 

 

Although most of the Main Barn structure was destroyed by the fire, no animals or farm crew lives were lost.  This was an amazing accomplishment at the time with no outside services in place to help tackle the fire. E.A. Stuart was so grateful that both human and animal lives were spared he recognized and commended his farm crew for their incredible acts of courage.  He decided to rebuild the barn as quickly as possible and to make it larger than the original barn.

The farm hands rebuilt the barn with most of the materials harvested on-site. At 89,000 square feet, the new Main Barn became the largest barn in King County.  The construction was completed in just under 3 months!

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World Champion Cow Statue turns 90!

July 31, 2018

The cow statue that you find at our farm is of a most beloved cow named Segis Pietertje Prospect. Segis Pietertje Prospect, known lovingly as “Possum Sweetheart”, shocked the world with her incredible quantities of milk and helped Carnation Farms transform dairy production on a global scale.

When E.A. Stuart set-out to improve production he did it with both science and love. E.A. was always interested in improving the quality of the Carnation bloodline through crossbreeding and line-breeding.  He purchased the finest cattle and always hired experts to guarantee careful monitoring of the breeding, resulting in high production stock. He also ensured the cows were treated with care and respect. He instituted a policy which would ensure the cows were happy as well as healthy, with the idea that cows which avoided stress and mistreatment would be able to produce more milk. This is where the trademark idea, “home of contented cows,” was born.

 

 

In the breezeway of the barn where many of the milking cows were housed, there remains to this day a sign which lays out guidelines for how to treat the cows:

 

“The RULE to be observed in this stable at all times, toward the cattle, young and old, is that of patience and kindness….

Remember that this is the home of mothers. Treat each cow as a mother should be treated. The giving of milk is a function of motherhood; rough treatment lessens the flow. That injures me as well as the cow. Always keep these ideas in mind in dealing with my cattle.”

 

E.A. also encourage milk production by ensuring that each cow was paired with a compatible milker. This proved to be a winning strategy in 1921 with “Possum Sweetheart”, and a milker named Carl Gockerell. In 1900, the average yearly milk production for a cow was 1,500-1,900 pounds of milk per year. The combination of “Possum Sweetheart” and Gockrell resulted in a record-shattering 37,000 pounds of milk produced in one year. A record she was able to hold on to for nearly sixteen years!

 

 

Upon the passing of “Possum Sweetheart” in 1925, E A Stuart wanted to extend his heartfelt recognition of her amazing milk production by erecting a monument in her honor. The unveiling was done during the annual Washington State Holstein-Friesian Association picnic was held at Carnation Farms on July 31, 1928. Everyone waited in anticipation when the monument was revealed of the beloved Segis Pietertje Prospect, world champion milk cow and most noted animal of this breed.

 

 

The unveiling event attracted over 3,000 visitors.  In attendance were many dignitaries, government officials, dairy breeders, farmers and family.  Her fantastic record had drawn local, national, and world-wide attention for Carnation Farms and earned “Possum Sweetheart” her place in history.

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Baseball at Carnation Farms

June 29, 2018

Every summer the Carnation Farm employees would look forward to the company picnic at the farm. The employees from both the Carnation Farm Headquarters, located in Seattle, and the Carnation location employees would have the opportunity to enjoy a picnic filled with fun, games, and lots of great food.

One of the much anticipated highlights of the picnic was the annual baseball game. Each year this lighthearted rivalry was viewed as an opportunity for the “city” baseball team to compete against the “country” baseball team.

This photo shows a game from the 1920’s. The Carnation Farm “country” team is the victor with the final score of 3 to 2. Go Carnation!

 

 

Transportation Through Time

June 12, 2018

Did you know that Carnation Farms used to transport its milk by boat?

For the first several years the milk was taken by boat along the Snoqualmie River downstream to the Skykomish River. From there, the milk was unloaded and hauled by wagon four miles to the condensary.

When the railroad came in in 1911 we were able to switch to rail, but not without a bit of engineering. The rail line was located on the opposite side of the river, so a cable ferry boat (a boat the crossed the river by cables connected to both shores) was installed. The ferry boat would transport feed and cows from the farm to train. Eventually the farm built a standard bridge across the river near the railroad to streamline the trip even further. You can still see supports from this bridge today.

 

 

Carnation King Sylvia

June 7, 2018

One hundred years ago today, June 7, 1918, E.A. Stuart shocked the world of dairy breeders when his bid for a bull calf far exceeded that of any previous purchase. Mr. Stuart’s bid of $106,000 (equal to $1.9 million today) for a bull calf silenced all competitors at the National Holstein Sale in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The auction had started off between half a dozen  bidders, but when it hit $50,000 only two were left in the game, Mr Stuart and the Morton Salt Company. From then they went back and forth by a $1,000 until they reached $101,000. Mr Stuart was ready to end the bidding and jumped up to $106,000 at which point Morton Salt conceded.

Mr Stuart’s outrageous bid created instant fame for that bull calf and was reported in newspapers and magazines around the world. The calf was named Carnation King Sylvia.

Mr. Stuart took full advantage of the free publicity. He had a huge sign printed for the train boxcar King Sylvia was traveling cross country in. Mr. Stuart made frequents stops in towns along the way and at each stop the bull was paraded around for viewing by local dairymen, farmers and towns people. This was a chance in a lifetime to see this outstanding “Milking Bull” that helped put Carnation Farms on the map!

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