In the mid-twentieth century, Hougland Packing Company was one of the largest manufacturing companies in Franklin, Indiana. From 1922 to 1953, this plant canned a variety of produce morning, noon, and night making it an agricultural and manufacturing dynamo. During tomato packing season, employees hurried to the factory lines while men unloaded baskets of tomatoes from large trucks, and the scent of ketchup filled the air.
The Hougland family worked in the canning industry long before they arrived in Johnson County. They owned and operated a successful canning company in Scottsburg, Indiana, but eventually saw potential in expanding the family business to Johnson County. After the Franklin Canning Company plant burned down in 1920, they purchased the land on Hurricane Road. Members of the family moved to Franklin and built a new, up-to-date cannery, beginning operation in 1922.
The Hougland Packing Company canned different kinds of produce, such as tomatoes, sweet corn, and pumpkins. The Johnson County economy was intertwined with this cannery in a variety of ways. Local farmers leased out hundreds of acres of their land to this business. If you travelled through rural Johnson County during the first half the twentieth century, a number of the tomato and corn crops growing in the fields were likely transported to the Hougland Packing Company.
The company also hired hundreds of local residents every year, who then spent that income within the community. Those wages varied depending on the employee’s gender, age, and the job they did. Teenagers and men picked produce from the fields, and men operated various factory machines. Women inspected and peeled produce and did clerical work. Wages for peelers and pickers depended on the number of baskets filled, while other jobs received hourly wages.
The number of canned goods Hougland’s produced each year, especially during World War II, illustrates the magnitude of its ability to provide support on a local and national level. The headline of an article about the company in an August 18, 1931 issue of the Franklin Evening Star said, “234,000 Cans of Corn Were Packed Monday.” This high level of productivity made the Hougland Packing Company one of the top manufacturing companies in Franklin.
However, by the 1950s, competition from year-round canneries on the west coast and new technology in food preservation (like frozen foods) led this Franklin business and other small canning companies into decline. The cannery closed in 1953. Today, these buildings from the Hougland plant are used by Reed Manufacturing Services and Crossroads Recycling. While the Hougland Packing Company no longer exists, the remnants of a leading, significant canning business in Johnson County are still here for people to see.