Times were tough in Walla Walla, Wash, (pop. 15,976) in the spring of 1932. The tariff wall which Canada hoisted in the early '205 had finally cut off the valley's chief market for fresh fruits, asparagus, tomatoes. Moreover, its wheat was going begging at 50¢ a bushel.
Tightlipped, hard-plugging John Grant Kelly, publisher of the Walla Walla Union Bulletin, did something about it. He started an experimental canning plant (Walla Walla Canning Co.) to can the region's produce, ship it to big markets in the East.
To trie cannery in midsummer went Farmer Barney Foster with a load of green peas, hand-picked and hulled. That year, 1932, the cannery shipped 60 sample cases of canned peas to U. S. grocers. This year seven regional canneries (two in Walla Walla) turned out 2,650,000 cases of canned green peas (one-sixth of U. S. canned pea production) worth some $5,000,000.
Fortnight ago Walla Wallans gave a party for Publisher Kelly, now president and chief stockholder. On a month's vacation last fall Mr. Kelly went East, called at the head offices of the big can companies, finally made a deal with Continental Can.
To Continental, Editor Kelly gave exclusive contracts for five years with four canneries, which use some $1,000,000 worth of cans a year. That means about $750,000 of new business annually for the canmaker, for three of the canneries were new customers. In return, Continental Can agreed to put up a $500,000 can factory. The canners figure on saving $100,000 a year on freight charges by having a factory in Walla Walla. The town figures the new plant will provide a yearly payroll of $125,000.
Old (67) John Kelly, a teetotaler, would not even have a thimbleful of whiskey at his party, but he sat down at his typewriter and batted out the news for happy Walla Wallans to read in the morning editions of his newspaper.