The Fort Des Moines Canning Company was incorporated in 1902, located at Fort Dodge, with capital stock of over $125,000. It moved to Dexter, Iowa, in 1903. The company invested $26,000 in building and equipment and had one of the best equipped plants in the state. The factory was located east of Barton Street, between the railroad tracks and Davis Street.
Dexter was in its heyday in 1900, boasting a population of 795 souls.
During the operating season the payroll amounted to $1000 per week. They shipped 30 to 40 carloads by rail in 1906.
One of the workers there in 1908 was Dexter graduate Conger Reynolds, who ran a sweetcorn mixer, and later a cooker. “Streams of sweet corn that had been removed from the cob somewhere above me had to be mixed in a revolving bowl with the seasoning ingredients . . . fed down a pipe. From my machine the mixture flowed down into a cooker that heated it and fed it automatically into cans. The cans were then capped and soldered and given a long cooking. . . .”
That year their new label for corn included Dexter–the celebrated race horse, hitched to the sulky that helped him the race that made him famous–on one end. The other part of the label was a half husked ear of corn surrounded by scroll work. The whole thing was embossed in five colors with gold gilt.
Labels used were: Ft. Des Moines, Dexter Prairie Queen, Golf Queen, Yucca, and Honor. Besides sweetcorn, the factory canned a lot of pumpkin.
Scarcity of water was such a drawback for the plant, until an artesian well was put down in 1911, and a large holding tank constructed that could run the entire pack even if it didn’t rain. Also in 1911, the manager George Drake gave pumpkin seeds to the farmers raising sweet corn.
After the Dexter Farmers Canning Factory burned in 1918, the owners agreed to rebuild if farmers contracted to plant 800 acres of sweet corn for three years, and that the town would make an effort to secure water for fire protection. The factory was rebuilt the next year, at a cost of $60,000. During the 1919 season a record 92,000 cans of corn were finished in one day’s work.
In 1936 Dexter Canning, Incorporated ran the affairs of the Dexter Canning Factory. Officers were Charles Willrich (president and treasurer), Leonard Reed (secretary and manager), John Willrich (factory superintendent)), J. M. McPherson (a director).
By 1939 the factory was converted into corn storage.
See a display at the Dexter Museum.
Local story about working there.
Credit: 1968 Dexter Centennial history