Ben Wheeler visited Cannery Row and the Aquarium in Monterey, California and shot a few photos of some worker’s shacks that were on display.
A chorus of cannery whistles, each with its own unique call, summoned the Cannery Row workforce. Men and women in rubber boots and oilcloth aprons showed up to clean, cut, pack, cook and can the sardines that were a major part of Monterey’s economy for more than three decades.
The work was dirty and hard, cold and wet, and the smell was terrible–but it was the smell of prosperity. The stench of sardines, reduced to fertilizer, fish meal, and chicken feed, permeated the Row.
At least a half-dozen languages could be heard over the din of canning machinery. The men operated and maintained the equipment and warehoused and shipped the finished product. The women worked the packing lines, filling Cannary Row’s trademark one-pound oval cans with sardines and salmon. Until the formation of the Cannery Workers Union in 1936, wages averaged 25 cents per hour.
At the peak of the 1941-42 season, the canneries packed 250,287 tons of fish. However, the industry’s capacity to harvest soon outdistanced the sardines’ ability to reproduce, and the fishery crashed. When asked at the end of the 1947-48 season where all the sardines had gone, Ed Ricketts replied, “They’re in cans.”