The Waterfront Brings Home the Bacon  

Oakland's combination of waterfront
and railroad nourished the growth of industry and jobs along the water. Some relied directly on the water like the Alaska Packer Fleet. Each spring, from 1893 through the late 1920s, as the ice melted in Alaskan waters, hundreds of fishermen and cannery workers boarded tall-masted sailing ships for the 2,000 mile journey to the salmon fishing waters in the north. Here they spent the summer fishing for salmon and canning it on the spot. The ships spent the winter docked in Alameda, creating a forest of masts as well as repair jobs for riggers, sailmakers, and shipwrights.

Other industries chose sites on Oakland's waterfront to take advantage of the link between water and rail transport. The Puget Sound Lumber Co. was one of ten waterfront lumber yards importing timber by ship to supply the building boom in California. The Pacific Jute Manufacturing Co. shipped in jute from Calcutta and employed 500 men in producing burlap bags to hold wool, grain, flour, potatoes and other commodities. United Canneries Co. at the foot of 9th Ave., one of six large canneries in Oakland, employed 1,200 workers to pack fruits and vegetables delivered by rail and then shipped to Europe for sale. California Cotton Mills in the Fruitvale District boasted that it had a spur line from the Central Pacific Railroad straight through the factory to its own wharf. Trains brought cotton into the mill; ships took finished cloth out to Canada, Hawaii and Mexico. Albers Brothers Milling Co., a flour mill in West Oakland with 400 workers, attributed their success to siting the mill "where rail and water meet." The economic impact of the rail and water meeting in Oakland is easier to understand when you consider that the alternative transport until the 1920s was a horse and wagon.

In 1939, there were over 50 cargo wharves along the estuary shores. Longshoremen worked on the docks and in the holds of the ships to load and unload cargo. A single ship with a load of lumber provided two weeks of well paid work for a crew of longshoremen. Men working with longshoreman's hooks maneuvered 500-pound bales of jute and 150-pound bags of coffee into slings which lifted them out of the ship's hold and onto the dock. Bulk cargo like coal and scrap iron was shoveled into huge buckets by a crew of eight men working in the ship's hold. Longshore work, work in the canneries, mills, yards and dry docks--none of it was easy--but it was important work in the lives of many Oakland and Alameda families.

Deborah Cooper
Oakland Museum of California

Oakland Museum of California Logo  "Walk Along the Water"
  Oakland Museum of California, used with permission.