Heinz Pickle Factory
By Joshua Briggs
Edited by Laura Anthon
Since its establishment in 1898, the Heinz Company has prospered and developed itself into a crucial member of the Holland community. The factory provided rations during wartime, servicemen when the nation called for soldiers, and employment during times of peace. The factory still operates today.
In December 1896, H.J. Heinz, owner of a ketchup and pickling company, explored the Holland area in search of the ideal location to construct a manufacturing facility. On December 12, 1896, a journalist for the Holland City News reported on the visit. “A representative of the Heinz Pickling Co. was in the city this week,” the journalist stated, “with a view of ascertaining as to whether Holland would be a desirable location for the establishing of such an industry.”
April 24, 1987, marked the start of the first phase of construction, but a lime shortage delayed work on the factory
The following summer, Holland’s Heinz facility enjoyed its first “green season,” during which local planters provided the company with their cucumber crop. As reported in the Holland City News, such vegetables were “steadily arriving [at the plant], as many as 250 bushels [per day].”
On February 11, 1898, a journalist for the Holland City News announced that the company was interested in expanding its local operations. “Heinz Co. [considered] the soil and climate here decidedly favorable,” it was proudly noted, “and hence … proposed extension of its plant and the putting up of branches in our immediate vicinity as feeders.” Shortly after the announcement, the facility began producing vinegar and a cider mill was erected.
World War I & The Great Depression
During World War I, factory manager James Hoover directed Heinz Co. over the course of the global conflict. Hoover occupied the managerial position for 23 years. His numerous accomplishments included staging the Founder’s Day celebration in 1924. Hoover retired in the early 1940s after a long and prosperous career.
In 1933, a fire began in the vinegar building. The flames were quickly extinguished and repairs were completed within a year.
In 1937, Heinz constructed a new plant on the north side of 16th Street. Upon completion, the building met the storage needs for the Holland factory.
World War II
During World War II, Heinz sponsored war bond rallies in Holland and shipped thousands of pickles overseas for military rations. During the Battle of Buna in 1942, George Bruursema, a Holland Heinz employee, was killed in combat. According to a telegram from the War Department, Bruursema was “killed in action in defense of his country.” On November 27, 1944, Heinz Co. employee Gerrit Timmer was killed in the European Theatre.
Not only did the war bear a profound effect on servicemen overseas, but it also had a significant impact on the Holland community. Throughout 1944, German prisoners of war were interned at a camp in Allegan, Michigan. According to a memorandum issued by the U.S. Employment Bureau, twenty-nine German POWs worked “in the cooper shop of the local Heinz factory.” Following the conclusion of World War II, the Germans returned home.
“World’s Largest Pickle Factory” and Other Milestones
After expanding in the 1940s and 1950s, Heinz dedicated the Holland location as the “world’s largest pickle and vinegar processing plant.” To celebrate the declaration, a three-day open house followed, during which more than 10,000 Holland residents toured the new facility.
In the 1970s Heinz promulgated a large and elaborate waste-treatment system that injected unusable by-products thousands of feet into the earth, below an impermeable layer of brine. This process, which is known as “deep well injection,” is still used by Heinz today.
Since the 1980s, Heinz has continued to expand its Holland plant. In 1997, the Holland Heinz factory celebrated its hundredth year of business. The factory, which is the largest pickle factory in the world, continues to operate today.