The Waterfront Brings Home
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,
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.
Oakland Museum of California
"Walk Along the Water"
© Oakland Museum of California, used with permission.