Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Alameda and the Alaska Packers Association

The Alaska Packers Association was one of the largest producers of canned salmon in the world during the first part of the 20th century. For the purposes of this blog we are only concerned with their presence in the San Francisco Bay Area, but for a complete corporate history you can see their Wikipedia page.

The Alaska Packers Association maintained a fleet of fishing ships and floating cannery ships that docked in the San Francisco Bay, in Alaska Basin off of the shore of Alameda to be precise. While the salmon packing industry was booming, the company exerted considerable political and economic influence within the communities of the Bay Area. The Alaska Packer's Associations mooring spot in Alameda, and their processing facility, was used as leverage within Alameda proper in order to attain their corporate goals. The most egregious example of this is when the company decided to build a new packing and processing plant in Alameda, but only if a bridge that they felt interfered with their shipping traffic was removed. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the money was found to destroy the bridge and build the Posey Tube, and the packing facility was announced the following day. Alaska Basin was where the Alaska Packers Association moored what is generally considered their greatest contribution to history, the Star Fleet, the last large fleet of sailing ships that was used and maintained for commercial purposes in the U.S.

The Star Fleet was actually built up and maintained because, as opposed to maintaining a fleet of steam ships, relying on the wind to push the sails was cheaper. The Alaska Packer's Association bought a large fleet of iron-hulled sailing ships and renamed them after various countries. The first was the Star of Russia, but the Star of India, now moored in San Diego, is perhaps the most famous. The other ship of note, the Star of Alaska was rechristened with its original name, the Balclutha, and is moored in San Francisco at the Maritime National Historic Park.

Getting There By Bike...
Unfortunately, there's not a lot left to see. Alaska Basin is simply a large pier in Alameda, and the packing facility has been torn down. I would recommend that, to get the feel of the ships, you go visit the Balcllutha at the Maritime National Historic Park. It's near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, so put on your bike helmet, pack extra patience for the crowds of tourists that you're going to encounter, aand get out there and tour that ship. The docents and guides that work for the Park Service also work on the ships and maintain them, so they have a great working knowledge of the history of this vessel.

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