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Albert P. Halfhill

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A. P. Halfhill, 1914

Albert Powers Halfhill (November 25, 1847 – May 7, 1924) was an American groceryman and a food manufacturer. He originated the idea of removing the natural fish oil from tuna and substituting it with a vegetable oil and then cooking it with compressed hot steam to produce a desirable food. He labeled his uniquely prepared cooked fish "chicken of the sea" and it became a popular American food in the early twentieth century. Halfhill is known as the father of the tuna packing industry.

Early life[edit]

Halfhill was born on November 25, 1847, in Morrow County, Ohio, near the village of Cardington. He was the son of Moses Halfhill, a farmer, and Lydia Halfhill (née Kingman). Halfhill had two brothers and was educated in the public schools of Mercer and St. Mary's, Ohio.[1]


Halfhill's first job was as a teacher for two years in Deep Cut, Ohio. He moved on to begin his career in business as a clerk in a hardware store in St. Marys, Ohio. He was a partner with August Decker for a few years in a dry goods business in St. Mary's. He then moved to Van Wert, Ohio, and in 1875 he purchased a grocery store that he operated with Lester Paterson.[1] He married Sarah Elizabeth Phillips on January 11, 1874.[2] They moved to Mankato, Minnesota, in 1884, where he was one of the founders of the wholesale grocery firm of Patterson, Halfhill, & Zimmerman.[3][4] He sold a line of groceries throughout the state of Minnesota for several years as a branch of this firm.[3] His wife's health failed in 1892 and they decided to move to Southern California for a more favorable environment.[5][6]

Halfhill and Robert Ward, a Los Angeles merchant, wanted to purchase the machinery of San Francisco's Golden Gate Packing Company, which had just gone out of business. They did not have enough money to do this, so they approached Joseph H. Lapham, a wealthy merchant, for financial help. They bought the fish-packing machinery and formed the Southern California Fish Company with Lapham as its president. Halfhill, Ward, and Lapham were the stockholders in the new firm. In 1893, they constructed a two-story fish packing factory plant on Terminal Island at San Pedro Bay, where they packed sardines.[1][7][8]

FMIB 44953 Pans in Which Tuna are Cooked.jpeg
Cannery worker filling tuna cans in Long Beach, California

The sardine-packing business was prosperous for ten years. In 1903, the sardine harvest failed in San Pedro Bay for some unknown reason, forcing Halfhill to look for other seafood he could pack to keep his plant running. In his travels, he had picked up a can of Italian canned tuna and brought it back to his plant to see if he could copy it.[8] Halfhill began experimenting packing fish like coast rock cod, albacore tuna, and halibut that he found were plentiful in the Pacific Ocean.[3] He experimented by removing natural fish oils and substituting them with salad oils, such as olive or cottonseed oil.[9][10][11] Albacore was unattractive and called the "hog of the sea" by fisheries,[1] and was not usually eaten at all before Halfhill came up with a process that made the meat more desirable.[12] He discovered that steaming the albacore tuna then replacing its fish oil produced a white meat with a texture like chicken.[2][13][14]

Halfhill first canned tuna produced by this method as a commercial product in 1907.[15][16][17] In 1908, he sold 250 cases (packaged in ​34 pound cans) of cooked Albacore tuna with his unique formula to a grocery store owner in Los Angeles named H. Jevne.[18] Its employees and customers didn't know it was albacore tuna.[1] Halfhill used the tagline "chicken of the sea" to promote sales,[13][19][20] and was the first to use this slogan.[21][22] Halfhill's primacy was proven in a later court case: he used it in 1908 and again when he sold his canned tuna to the Seaman Brothers of New York in 1909.The product did not sell well at first because Americans were unfamiliar with it being a food for consumption, but Jevne promoted it and the public discovered they liked the mild taste of the white meat.[23] It became a successful seller in New York before it was in California.[6] Southern California canning companies were packing 115,000 cases of canned tuna per year by 1912.[6] That production doubled two years later.[21]

From 1912, Frank Van Camp and other fish packers built canneries throughout California and Oregon for the manufacture and sale of this cooked canned tuna.[21] Starting in 1914, they took up the brand names Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, and StarKist.[21] Halfhill built the Halfhill Tuna Packing Company in Long Beach, California, in January 1915.[1] It was an extensive canning factory for the time, with a secret brand process for packing tuna.[24] Halfhill constructed this new company with his sons Charles and Harry, using the funds they made from the sale of their holdings in the Southern California Fish Company.[25] In December he had built a fleet of eight fishing boats for gathering tuna 200 miles (320 km) out into the Pacific Ocean in Tacoma, Washington.[26]

Later life[edit]

In 1919, the Halfhill Tuna Packing Company was renamed to Halfhill Packing Corporation.[1] Halfhill is considered by fisheries as the father of the tuna-packing industry.[27][28][29] Captain Halfhill, an honorary title bestowed on him by his competitors, retired in 1922. His sons Charles and Harry took over the business which subsequently sold about 200,000 cases of tuna, sardines, and mackerel yearly to major cities throughout the United States.[1][30] Halfhill, after a short illness, died at his Los Angeles home at the age of 76 on May 7, 1924.[1][30][31] At the time, canned tuna was produced by 36 tuna canneries on the west coast of the United States.[23] By 1926, the "chicken of the sea"-style of cooked canned tuna became a staple in the American diet as the price became more affordable.[15]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i University Microfilms 1967, p. 375.
  2. ^ a b Cutter 1927, p. 285.
  3. ^ a b c Freeman 1918, p. 79.
  4. ^ "Mankato". The Saint Paul Globe. Saint Paul, Minnesota. November 4, 1885. p. 5 – via open access.
  5. ^ Smith 2012, p. 28.
  6. ^ a b c "New Sea Food Given World". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. July 26, 1914. p. 13 – via open access.
  7. ^ Smith 2012, p. 29.
  8. ^ a b Environmental Impact Statement 1984, p. 50.
  9. ^ "Tuna Fish gains a wide popularity". Hutchinson News. Hutchinson, Kansas. February 25, 1929. p. 13 – via open access.
  10. ^ Anderson 1952, p. 12.
  11. ^ "Some Fish Geography". The Current Local. Van Buren, Missouri. June 9, 1927. p. 2 – via open access.
  12. ^ Teixeira 2009, p. 28.
  13. ^ a b Teixeira 2009, p. 29.
  14. ^ "Halfhill Tuna Packing Co". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. January 1, 1916. p. 47 – via open access.
  15. ^ a b Kane 1997, p. 255.
  16. ^ Texas A&M 1979, p. 189.
  17. ^ "Countdown to the Millennium". Ukiah Daily Journal. Ukiah, California. January 12, 1999. p. B3 – via open access.
  18. ^ Felando, August (2012). "The Origins of California's High-Seas Tuna Fleet". Journal of San Diego History. San Diego, California. 58: 1.
  19. ^ Smith 2012, pp. 277–28.
  20. ^ Lilian Takahashi Hoffecker (2001). "A Village Disappeared". Trusted Writing on American History, Travel and Food. American Heritage Publishing. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  21. ^ a b c d "Innovative idea still packing 'em in". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. January 7, 1999. p. 24.
  22. ^ Swift 1956, p. 58.
  23. ^ a b Smith 2013, p. 493.
  24. ^ "Tuna Packers Plan a Plant / Long Beach is Selected for New Factory". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. January 15, 1915. p. 19 – via open access.
  25. ^ "Tuna Packers Plan A Plant". Los Angeles Daily Times, part II. Los Angeles, California. January 15, 1915. p. 9.
  26. ^ "Build Fleet for deep-sea Tuna". Los Angeles Daily Times, part II. Los Angeles, California. December 22, 1915. p. 3.
  27. ^ Rowley 1913, p. 12.
  28. ^ "Started in 1903". Lubbock Morning Avalanche. Lubbock, Texas. September 19, 1956. p. 4 – via open access. Albert P. Halfhill, now recognized as 'father of the tuna industry,' began canning other California fishes, among them tuna.
  29. ^ Staats 1949, p. 1.
  30. ^ a b "First Tuna Packer Dies / Albert P. Halfhill, Founder of Industry, Passes away at Los Angeles home, born in Ohio". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. May 8, 1924.
  31. ^ Smith 2012, p. 44.


  • Anderson, Andrew Wallace (1952). Domestic Tuna Industry. U.S. Depart. of Interior. Albert P. Halfhill who is recognized as 'father of the industry' had been packing sardines at San Pedro since the early nineties. In 1903, the sardines failed to appear and a crisis confronted both the fishermen and canners. In an effort to keep his plant operating, Mr. Halfhill began canning other California fishes such as rock cod, jewfish, halibut, and albacore. In an attempt to pack an attractive product, a redwood steam box was constructed in which the fish could be steamed. It was found that this process changed the red flesh of the albacore to a creamy white and improved the flavor. Since the steaming process removed the oil from the fish a quantity of vegetable oil was added to each can to bring out the flavor and improve the appearance of the pack.
  • Cutter, William Richard (1927). American Biography. American Historical Association.
  • Environmental Impact Statement (1984). Los Angeles-Long Beach Improvements. Cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Halfhill found that steam applied to its flesh turned it snow white and also made the albacore look and taste like chicken. He packed 700 cases in 1903, but grocers returned a sizable part. To promote albacore, he convinced grocers to give it away free with coffee. This and other promotional efforts were successful. Halfhill called his product "chicken of the sea"; this slogan later became the trademark of Van Camp Seafood Company.
  • Freeman, Miller (1918). Pacific Fisherman: Year book. Miller Freeman, Inc. The story of the sensational rise to favor in the eyes of the American people of canned albacore was related to a correspondent of the Pacific Fisherman by Mr. Halfhill, the father of the tuna packing industry.
  • Kane, Joseph Nathan (1997). Famous First Facts. H.W. Wilson Company. #3889 - The first canned tuna was packed in 1907 by a small cannery owned by A.P. Halfhill in San Pedro, CA, center of the American tuna industry. Canned tuna did not catch on as a staple of the American diet until 1926, when Van Camp Sea Food of San Pedro began packing yellow-fin tuna in cans and lowered the price. Yellow-fin was a more economical and easier-to-catch fish than the white-fleshed albacore that canneries had packed until then.
  • Rowley, Howard C. (1913). California Fruit News. A. P. Halfhill, founder of the tuna industry through his discovery of a method of extracting oil from the fish meat and substituting olive and cottonseed oil, has severed his connection with Southern California Fish Company, says the Los Angeles Times.
  • Smith, Andrew F. (2012). American Tuna. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-95415-1.
  • Smith, Andrew (31 January 2013). Oxford Encyclopedia of Food. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-973496-2.
  • Staats, William R. (1949). Tuna Fishing and Packing Industry. William R. Staats Company. Halfhill being generally regarded as "father" of the industry which he started in 1903.
  • Swift, John Cornish (1956). Tuna Fishery of California. University of California, Berkeley. "Chicken of the Sea" resulted from the first meeting of Sig Seeman and Hairhill in 1909. According to Halfhill's two sons, the incident came about when Halfhill and Seeman adjourned to the New Yorker's cutting room. When Halfhill opened his sample can of albacore, Seeman said, "What is this?" "It is," replied Halfhill, "chicken of the sea." After this meeting Halfhill began packing tuna with feverish haste.
  • Teixeira, Ana (2009). Swimming with the dolphins. University of North Carolina. ISBN 978-0-520-95415-1. Halfhill used a steam box to steam the fish and he discovered that live steam turns albacore flesh into a white color that resembles chicken meat in taste and appearance. It was this white meat tuna – chicken of the sea – that was first presented to the American consumers as American canned tuna.
  • Texas A&M (1979). Technological Conference. Texas A&M University.
  • University Microfilms (1967). National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. University Microfilms.

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