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Eating Local in 1962 – Saginaw, Michigan

1962 LOCAL NEWS

Welcome again to a Roadtrip-'62 ™ discussion of things from 1962! My name is Don Milne and I’m your guide on this virtual tour of history. Today, we’ll be discussing local or regional brands of foods that you could purchase at the supermarket. Back in 1962, more food was packaged and sold locally, before the Interstate freeways improved distribution. Every larger city or region needed its local bakers, meat packers, brewers, canneries, dairies, potato chip factories, soda bottlers, etc. My hometown of Saginaw, Michigan was no exception, as we’ll see below. For purposes of my discussion, I’ll define local as the City of Saginaw and any of the 5 adjacent townships. This metropolitan had a population of about 144,000 in the 1960 census, which could support a robust market for food.

 
locations of food producers in Saginaw, Michigan, 1962 Map
Map of the locations of food producers in the Saginaw, Michigan area in 1962 (Map by Milne Enterprises, Inc.)

Let’s begin by looking at bread. Like many products at the time, there were nationwide or regional brands and local brands co-existing. Rainbo Bread comes to mind as the primary national brand, and Saginaw had a Rainbo bakery. It also had a Holsum Bread bakery and a Sunshine Crackers bakery to round out national brands produced locally. But Saginaw also had a couple of local bread bakers that have lasted beyond that period and expanded to regional distribution today. My favorite and the largest is Spatz Bread, still produced in what appears to be a small corner bakery. And they are still a small corner bakery in some respects, as you can buy the usual assortment of cookies and donuts at the shop. The shop and bakery is located right on old US-10, State St., about a mile west of the Saginaw River. It was established in 1854, is one of the oldest bakeries in the Midwest, and the current owner is still a Spatz family member. He still uses the original German recipe of only a handful of natural ingredients with no preservatives. Over the years Spatz has expanded its distribution and is now sold all over Mid-Michigan, but natives living elsewhere sometimes buy it on eBay! The bread freezes well, so people from farther away in Michigan stock up when they come to Saginaw. But the bakery closes for two weeks every July, so don’t bother to stop by then.

 

Spatz Bread bakery operation

 

My favorite use of Spatz bread is for peanut butter sandwiches. The texture, airy with real holes from the bread rising, goes perfectly with the smoothness of peanut butter. I also find it great for toast and jelly, as you cannot destroy the bread by spreading the jelly. And of course, it makes great BLT sandwiches. I’m also a big fan of their glazed donuts. I grew up on them and still think they’re some of the best ever. The video above shows Spatz baking operation where everything is still done by hand. Until just a couple of years ago they still wrapped each loaf in wax paper sold it in paper bags instead of plastic.

Other old-fashioned bakeries in Saginaw are the Napolitano Bakery and Vargas Corn Tortillas. Napolitano has been here since 1915 and specializes in Italian bread. It’s used by local restaurants and sold at stores. Today, the bakery is located about a mile further west from Spatz Bakery, also on State St., but it was originally on the City of Saginaw’s northeast side. Vargas was around in the 1940s as Vasquez Mexican Bakery, located near the east city limits. It was purchased by the Vargas family in 1962. Vargas Tortillas, a corn tortilla, are their main product. Mr. Vargas built his business by driving all over Mid-Michigan in his station wagon, delivering to stores and restaurants. The bakery moved to a larger building in downtown Saginaw a few years ago. Just like Spatz, ex-Michiganders come from out of state to stock up and locals ship the product to families all over the country.

 
Hausbeck Midget Dills jar
Hausbeck Midget Dills jar

Saginaw is located in an extensive farming area, so you might expect some food canning or packing businesses here. Pickles are the main product of this type for the area and Hausbeck Pickles is the last remaining operation of several that we would have found in 1962. National brands were well represented at that time. There was a Heinz Pickle plant that has since closed and been demolished. A Dailey Pickle plant was also here then, but was closed when that company eventually became part of the Vlassic Pickle company. Hausbeck was formed in 1923 and is still family-owned and operated. The company was a relatively small, local pickle supplier until the mid-1970s, when the original owner died and control was split among his sons. A grandson soon received his degree in food science from Michigan State University and came back to try to expand the company. He also introduced new food science principles, improving the quality and yield of the product. And he moved the company from strictly retail sales to fast food restaurant supply. You may never have heard of Hausbeck Pickles or seen a jar at the store but if you have ever eaten at Dominos, Burger King, or Subway, you have probably eaten some of their pickles or peppers. Their first restaurant contract was selling to local Burger Kings in 1980, and that business soon grew at 30 to 40 percent a year. They still sell to supermarkets and I enjoy their Midget Dill pickles. Today, they occupy a brand new plant in the City of Saginaw, ironically on the site of the former Heinz plant.

Nearly every city of 50,000 or more seems to have had local soda pop bottlers in 1962. Saginaw had several, though none are still around. Shay Water & Beverage grew out a company that supplied clean drinking water in the early 1920s, when much of Saginaw still relied on street corner water pumps that were supplied from the Saginaw River. Shay transported artesian spring water from farther west in the state, founding his company in 1929. The plant was originally located just west of the Saginaw River, and has since moved about a mile north. Currently, they are back in their original business of providing bottled water. But for decades, including the 1960s, they also bottled pop. Many companies bottled national brands and I recall Shay as the local bottler of Hires Root Beer, Mission fruit flavors, and Squirt, though they probably bottled other national brands too.

 
Chapman’s Orange soda pop bottle cap
Chapman’s Orange bottle cap (photo from online auction)

Others produced only their own flavors, such as Saginaw’s National Bottling Company. They had no connection to today’s National Beverage Company, bottler of Faygo, Shasta, Everfresh Juices, and LaCroix Waters. National was one of the many beer brewers that was forced to find a new business during Prohibition, when the manufacture and sale of alcohol was illegal. You can find more stories of what breweries did during that period on my trip along US-18 through Wisconsin. National Brewery began in 1885 along E. Genesee Ave, which would become US-10 / US-23, in Saginaw. After the repeal of prohibition the brewery began making beer again in 1933, but quit in 1941 and switched back to soda because competition from larger regional brewers was too steep. They built a newer bottling plant farther east, just out of the city. They bottled their own National flavors but no truly national brands and closed in the 1980s. One more bottler of the 1962 period was Chapman’s Beverages: I drank a lot of their orange pop as a kid! I could not find when the company began, but bottles date-stamped 1928 have been seen for sale online. They were located about a half mile north of the city limits. They also bottled their own Chapman’s flavors but no national brands and went out of business in 1978.

 
Walter Hoff Dairy glass bottle
Walter Hoff Dairy glass bottle (photo from an online auction)

Most cities also had dairies, as milk was not generally shipped long distances to groceries. In fact, home delivery of milk, cream, and butter was still the most common way to buy dairy products. Saginaw had several, including the nationally advertised Borden’s. All are gone today, with Superior Dairies being the last to close. It was located in the southwest part of the City of Saginaw. They tried to cut costs by converting their old delivery trucks to run on natural gas, but eventually that was not enough. They were the last home delivery dairy in Saginaw, and near the end of their run in the 2000s they may have been only a distributor. It appears their Golden Guernsey milk may have come from a diary in Northville, Michigan.

Hoff’s Farm Dairy (aka. Walter Hoff Dairy) was a much larger operation that I cannot find a starting date for. As a larger operation, it attracted the attention of a regional company that was purchasing local dairies to create a nationwide network. Bowman, based in the Chicago, Illinois area, was such a company, buying dairies all over the Midwest throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In 1955 Bowman purchased two dairies in Saginaw, Michigan: Walter Hoff Dairy and Huebner Quality Dairy. Bowman Dairy proved to be too aggressive, however, and by 1959 it began to lose money. It remained unprofitable until its sale to the Dean Foods Company in 1966. So while the dairy was still in operation in 1962, the bottles and other signage probably was for Bowman. I remember that for a short time when I was a kid, we had Bowman milk delivered instead of Borden’s. Eventually, my parents settled on Superior Dairies because the milk had a higher milkfat content, and my dad liked that. The dairy was located in Buena Vista Township, about 3 miles east of old US-23. There is still a farm there owned by a Hoff family, but no dairy.

 
M&B Ice Cream sign
M&B Ice Cream sign (photo from online auction)

Dairies means ice cream too, and Saginaw had it’s share of creameries. M&B Ice Cream was a small ice cream manufacturer that appears to have formed about 1910. Borden’s offered to buy the business in 1950, but the offer was turned down. I could not find when they closed, but while I remember their signs, I don’t remember ever having M&B Ice Cream. I do remember having Mooney’s Ice Cream many times! Money’s was originally founded as a butter plant in 1927 before expanding to sell ice cream throughout northern and mid-Michigan. They had a great ice cream parlor at the front of their plant in mid-Saginaw. We went there on many warm summer nights and that’s where I discovered that ice cream came in more flavors than vanilla and chocolate! My favorite was the butterscotch ripple. My father worked at the original Mooney’s when he was in high school. He always told a story of how he and some of the other guys in the ice cream plant would take partially frozen, circular containers of ice cream off the filling line and squeeze the still-liquid center up and out to eat. The company was sold after the death of the owner in 1986 to Stroh Brewery of Detroit, Michigan, which had an ice cream subsidiary. It was then sold again to Dean Foods in 2005. The Mooney brand is still made somewhere and sold in at least Saginaw and Gaylord, Michigan, but I was unable to find out who makes it. It does not appear on the Dean Foods website. The building, on Saginaw’s west side, was demolished in 1997 but the great neon sign from the front was saved and remains lighted at night on the new Ippel building in Saginaw. One of the places you can still buy the ice cream is at a new Mooney’s about 2½ miles west of Saginaw on old US-10. Other than the ice cream brand, there is no connection with the original company.

 
Pioneer Sugar packages
Pioneer Sugar packages (photo from online advertisement)

One type of food processor that few cities have is a sugar refinery. But the Saginaw area had one at the Michigan Sugar plant in adjacent Carrollton Township. Michigan Sugar processed sugar beets into Pioneer Sugar. Sugar beet processing began in Michigan in 1898 with a plant in Essexville. The Saginaw Valley Sugar Company of Carrollton soon followed. The Michigan Sugar Company was formed by merging six smaller companies in 1906. Consolidation and closings continued over the years and by 1954, only two of Michigan’s original 24 companies remained: one of them was Michigan Sugar. The other was Monitor Sugar Company in Bay City, Michigan. New owners in 1962 worked on legislation and researching the best methods from European sugar beet refineries to help grow the business and make it more efficient. After several corporate buyouts of both companies in the 1980s and bankruptcies in the early 2000s, Monitor Sugar Company and Michigan Sugar Company were joined by their grower-owner associations and the two companies became a single grower-owned cooperative. Today, Michigan Sugar Company is the only remaining sugar company in the state and the third largest in the United States. Its combined factories have a beet slicing capacity of 22,000 tons per day and an ability to produce more than 1.1 billion pounds of sugar each year, which it markets under the Pioneer Sugar and Big Chief Sugar brand names.

Saginaw is missing some types of food processors that you usually find in large cities: a potato chip company and a meat packer. Made-Rite Potato Chips was located in Bay City, Michigan, just 13 miles north, so that probably functioned as the local supplier in a larger metro area. They have since closed. There was a local meat packer farther south in Saginaw County that probably also functioned as if it were part of the Saginaw metro area. Farmer Peet Meats of Chesaning, Michigan was well known throughout the state and sold its products in Saginaw. It has also since closed.

 
Jack Rabbit Pinto Beans package
Jack Rabbit Pinto Beans package (photo from an online advertisement)

Finally, a processor of dry beans was located in the center of Saginaw in 1962: Jack Rabbit Beans. Sometime in the late 1920s, Al Reidel began bagging the country’s first brand of packaged beans and named them Jack Rabbit after a rabbit his daughter had received from magician Harry Houdini. But Mr. Reidel’s Michigan Bean Company is probably more famous locally for the giant neon bunny at the top of his bean elevator than for the beans! The sign was built in 1947 and at 50 feet wide by 35 feet tall it is the largest figural neon sign in the United States. The sign went dark in 1985 when the elevator was sold but was relit after a public fundraising campaign began in 1997 and continued through 2007. In 2006, the building was sold again but the new owner not only allowed the sign to stay, but for several years he donated the electricity to light it. Of course, all good things come to an end and the sign has gone dark again in recent years.

 

As for the beans, after passing through several owners, the brand is now owned by Trinidad Benham. They are the leading independent US packager of edible dry beans. Jack Rabbit Beans are no longer packaged in Saginaw. In fact, you can’t even buy them at a store in Saginaw. When I checked the company’s website, it said the closest location is more than 100 miles from here! Most retailers seem to be in the New York City / Washington D.C. corridor.

If you know of any other food processors that were in business in Saginaw in 1962, I would love to be reminded of them! Please go to our Contact page and send me a message.

 
Spatz’s Bread and sandwich
Spatz’s Bread and sandwich. You can still smell the yeast…time for lunch!
 

All photos by the author and Copyright © 2020 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2020 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.

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What's the weather in 1962?

Weather on April 21, 1962 for Saginaw, MI, from the National Climatic Data Center:

  • Low = 34°F
  • High = 48°F
  • Precipitation = none
  • Mean Wind Speed = 13.5mph

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