The excavation of the SS Republic yielded 171 glass jars embossed with the A. Kemp company name. The vast majority of the examples were recovered empty of their original contents, only their large corks remaining inside. Yet a few bottles, their corks still intact, are generously filled with ripe yellow pineapples, sliced and well conserved – a fine example of Kemp’s preserving skills.
Throughout history, people have sought better methods to preserve food. A major breakthrough came in the era of Napoleon Bonaparte. His soldiers’ diet of mostly salt-preserved foods was vitamin C deficient, leading to outbreaks of scurvy. Napoleon offered a reward of 12,000 francs to the person who could devise a safe and dependable method of food preservation.
After years of tests, French chemist Nicolas Appert found that food could be preserved if sealed in airtight glass jars and then boiled. Appert submitted his invention in 1809 and won the prize, personally awarded by Napoleon. Appert’s preserving process involved filling thick, large-mouthed glass bottles with a variety of edibles, leaving air space at the top. Using a vise, the contents were tightly sealed with a cork, then the bottle was wrapped in canvas and dunked into boiling water.
The method spread swiftly across the Atlantic. By 1835, Aaron Kemp of New York was preserving meats with great success. From archaeological sites of the California Gold Rush, we know that Kemp’s products were enjoyed as far west as San Francisco. Kemp joined George W. Day in 1862. Kemp, Day & Co. was listed as “Packers and Preservers of Meat, Poultry, Game, Fish, Fruits, Vegetables, Shell Fish, Pickles, etc.”