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Chris Rader | Remembering Wenatchee’s vinegar plant from the ’20s

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Photo courtesy of Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center Wenatchee’s vinegar plant is shown at center in this 1944 aerial view of the waterfront. At top right is the city’s water filtration plant; Columbia Ice and Cold Storage is at bottom right. The Hughes Memorial Pool is shown at top left.

Wenatchee, known since 1902 as the Apple Capital of the World, produced and sold thousands of tons of wonderful apples each year — from Spitzenberg, Jonathan and Northern Spy to today’s Granny Smith, Fuji and Honeycrisp.

One byproduct of this successful industry is the cull apples that aren’t fit to pack and ship. For decades, these culls were left to rot on the ground or, worse, dumped into the Columbia River like the town’s other garbage.

A solution to this wasteful practice came in 1925 when the Wenatchee Vinegar Co. opened at the foot of Fifth Street. Manager John Haarman and wife Lillian lived near the plant, on what was then called Pierce Street (now Piere). In its second year, the plant produced 100,000 gallons of vinegar. By 1929, the output was 1 million gallons. The vinegar was shipped in barrels and tank cars via the Great Northern Railway to distributors around the U.S., mostly in the Midwest.

The vinegar plant ran 24 hours a day through October and November. Cull apples of all varieties were hauled to the corner of Fifth and Pierce, either in boxes or loose on trucks, and dumped from a ramp into large bins below. These were emptied into machines that ground the apples into pulp. Seven huge presses squeezed juice from the pulp, then lifted this cider by centrifugal pumps into 27 central storage tanks. Vinegar bacteria was then introduced. After a period of four or five months, the resulting vinegar was sterilized and ready for wholesale shipment.

Haarman told The Wenatchee Daily World in November 1930 that the plant did not reach its capacity that year because of lowered demand for vinegar nationwide, thanks to a drought across the Midwest. The drought halved the production of salad greens and vegetables such as cucumbers, beets and cabbage used in making pickles and relishes. Haarman said 4,000 tons of culls were used to produce 600,000 gallons of vinegar in the 1930 season.

The plant became part of the nation’s largest vinegar-making chain, Speas Manufacturing Co., in 1933. Arthur Henderson took over from Haarman in 1936 and managed the plant through 1960, when he was succeeded by Kenneth Ferguson. For a short time, Speas operated a small vinegar plant at Chelan Falls as well. Cashmere Fruit Products also produced vinegar in the 1930s, but Speas was the undisputed leader in the valley’s cider vinegar industry until the plant closed in 1976.

Interested in learning more about Wenatchee’s waterfront? The book “Wenatchee,” produced and sold by the Wenatchee Valley Museum, contains fascinating photographs and descriptions of our town’s early history — including the steamboats once built on the site of the vinegar plant.

Chris Rader, former KOHO news director and Wenatchee Valley Museum public relations coordinator, is a freelance writer who contracts with the museum for research, writing and editing. She may be reached at crader@nwi.net.

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