Morgan Foods - Since 1899 an Austin Tradition
At right an early 1930s photo of J.S. Morgan (right) the founder of the Austin Canning Company (Morgan Foods) in 1899. At left is his son I.C. Morgan who cared as much about the community of Austin, as he did the about the Morgan Packing Company canning empire he and his father created.
(Please scroll down the page and read about the challenges faced by each generation of the Morgan Family and their determination to succeed.)
The Morgan Foods story is an incredible American success story located in a small town in southern Indiana. Morgan Foods is a world leader in private name brand soups and beans, and it all started right here in Austin, Indiana where it has been a tradition since 1899.
For more information on Morgan Foods Incorporated please visit the company’s official website at:
Joseph Steely Morgan - Founder of Austin Canning Company
J.S. Morgan (1858-1948)
In 1820 a gentlemen named David Washington Morgan (1775-1835), and his wife Sarah Hughbanks Morgan (1775-1844) arrived from Bourbon County, Kentucky, and settled in Scott County, Indiana, as one of the county’s early pioneers. A farmer, David and Sarah started their family and in 1825, a son was born which they named him, Nathan R. Morgan. Nathan too became a farmer but also operated a general store. Nathan and his second wife Mary Hughes Morgan shared seven children. In 1953 Dr. Carl Bogardus an Austin physician wrote a book about the early history of Austin, “Centennial History of Austin Scott County Indiana.” In the Bogardus book we learn that Joseph Steely Morgan (J.S.), the son of Nathan Morgan was born in Scott County Indiana, in 1858. Just after J.S. Morgan turned twenty years old, his father Nathan Morgan passed away in 1878.
J.S. Morgan was married to Mollie Barrett Morgan, the only child of James and Elizabeth Barrett, who were among Austin’s earliest settlers. Mollie was raised by her mother, as when she was just a baby her father James was killed in the Civil War fighting for the Union Army. (35th Regiment, Indiana Infantry)
According to Bogardus, the first professional accounts of J.S. Morgan reveal he was a school teacher at a county school in Jennings Township, at a place called Possum Trot, which was about one mile northeast of Austin. In 1881, J.S. opened a general store in North Austin which included a drug store, where he was the pharmacist.
When the Austin Canning Company was formed in 1899, a small group of local businessmen provided $500.00 each to start the business. J.S. was one of the original shareholders but since he did not have the funds to contribute, he was designated the company’s president for the first year, and his salary paid for his stock. J.S. Morgan was 41 years old and already established in the community when the Austin Canning Company opened for business. He was willing to risk it all for what he believed was an opportunity of a lifetime. In 1899, forty-one years old was considered old, and men were tired from a hard life of fighting to survive. Putting food on the table for family was one thing, but these were the days when America was on guard for one serious health threat after another, typhoid fever was a deadly killer feared by all.
The canning industry required long hard hours, and it was not a place for the timid. J.S. Morgan was not a timid man; he worked exhaustive hours with such a passion for his work he was viewed as obsessive by those who knew him best. In 1900, the company records show there were 75 employees in the first year of operation.
In the early 1900s when the operation was in jeopardy of shutting down J.S. started buying out his partners. For him failure was not an option and he wanted complete control of the thing that controlled his life, the canning company. He changed the company’s philosophy which was simple, out work the competitor, quit borrowing money to keep the operation going and make sure products were of the best quality. To ensure the quality of the products J.S. hired a quality inspector, himself. He personally wanted to guarantee the purity of his products. While he expanded operations, he vigorously perused the company books in search of cost savings that would prevent him from having to borrow money. One way he saved money was to do as many tasks of the company that he could possibly do, he was the President, timekeeper, quality inspector, purchasing agent, production supervisor and payroll administrator. He adamantly believed that borrowing money would be the ruination of a company.
Roadways presented serious transportation challenges. Before motor transportation was available, the company used the railroad or horse and mule teams pulling wagons to deliver their products. Bad weather presented an arduous task of traveling through slow and impassible roads. J.S. Morgan was not deterred by any of these events, he knew that if his products didn’t arrive on time customers would buy from another canner, and he would lose cash flow that would require him to seek credit. J.S. had an answer, he frequently employed himself as a driver of wagon teams to ensure timely delivery and to ensure cash returned safely back to Austin. He spent exhaustive hours milling farm lands that were growing crops for his company; he wanted his crops to look good in the fields which would provide better quality. It was a well-known fact that he spent almost 18 hours a day on the job, everyday.
In the early 1900s America was changing over night with the industrialism of agriculture. Through industrialism farm land became an out door assembly line. Factory jobs changed rural America as people began to seek a more stable way of making a living. Instead of making their own food and clothes it was easier to let someone else make them, and then buy them. Farm work without modern equipment required the work of several hands on just a small farm, and even that did not guarantee an income. When Industrialism started America was willing to go to work for someone else and get paid for it.
During the industrialism of agriculture, the Austin Canning Company had one advantage that didn’t have anything to do with cash flow. The advantage was the prosperity of the tomato plant in Scott County. More tomatoes were produced in Scott County, than any other county in Indiana, and at the time Indiana was the leading grower of tomatoes in the United States. The tomato was an important factor of the early success of Morgan Packing Company, and J.S. Morgan saw an opportunity and planted more tomato crops than any other canner in Indiana.
J.S. Morgan and his wife Mary (Mollie) Barrett Morgan (1862-1951) were the parents of four children. Ivan Clarence Morgan, who later became commonly known as I.C. Morgan, was born on August 26th, 1880. Their first daughter Goldie Morgan was born in 1885 and two more daughters Lenora Morgan and Helen Morgan were born in 1896 and 1898.
The 1905-1909 period remains one of the most trying and important times in the history of the company. There were several events that negatively impacted the company and that changed the dynamics of the strongly bonded Morgan Family.
The first event was the financial crisis the company faced in 1905. When the company almost went under due to lack of cash funds, several of the original investors were ready to bail out. The reserve funds had been used up and operations were coming to a halt. While most of the partnership wanted out, J.S. saw an opportunity. He traded land, wagons and live stock for the stock owned by the other shareholders. He did this without using up his own cash flow, which he then used to keep the operations going. J.S. was now more determined than ever to succeed, he was finally the majority stockholder and nothing would slow him down or so he thought.
While J.S. focused his energies on the Austin Canning Company more than ever in 1906, he still owned the general store which was prospering under the guidance of his son I.C., and daughter Goldie Morgan Weir. I.C. Morgan loved working at the general store in downtown Austin and loved playing baseball even more. In the early part of a cold winter in 1906, J.S. started feeling ill; his once unlimited energy wasn’t what it used to be. J.S. was aware of this, while others silently suspected it. Finally doctors told him he had contracted typhoid fever, he needed rest and needed to be quarantined from others. The factory was off limits to the man, who needed the factory as much as it needed him. This was a crucial moment in the history of the company, as J.S. turned to the only man he knew that believed in his vision, I.C. Morgan.
(At right J.S. Morgan Family: Wife Mary, daughter Goldie, son I.C. and J.S. Circa 1892)
1906 was another difficult year for Austin Canning Company, and for both J.S. and I.C. Morgan. J.S. was ill for much of the year and he worried about the canning company despite daily reports from I.C., who also worried about the company and his father’s failing health. The minority shareholders of the company worried about losing their investments as profits were small and overhead costs were rising. While it was a turbulent year, it provided I.C. Morgan with the experience he would rely on for many years to come.
During the year I.C. was the head of the company, he realized the canning company was something he was deeply interested in. When his father was ready to return to the plant in 1907, the pair became a team, but there were still some tough times just around the corner. That summer a nationwide drought so severe shut down the plant due to the lack of water, it might be the most crucial event in the history of the Morgan family in regards to the factory. The events of the drought eventually opened the door for the complete takeover of ownership by J.S and I.C. Morgan.
With the plant shut down, and the town of Austin at a stand still, J.S. and I.C. decided to take matters into their own hands. They purchased $4000 worth of pipe from a Louisville, Kentucky firm, and ran a two mile water line from the Muscatatuck River north of Austin. The drought had affected not only the canning company, but townspeople and farmers as well. The water line literally pumped life back into Austin and the cannery. What it did not do, however, was strengthen the relationship between J.S. Morgan, and the other shareholders of the Austin Canning Company. They believed the waterline was too costly, and they were worried the cannery would never recover from such an expensive decision. J.S. made a proposal to buy out the existing shareholders for a total of $3,500. When they accepted he did something he didn’t believe in, he and I.C. borrowed money to buy out the other shareholders. While he wasn’t pleased with the debt, and while the drought had cost the company dearly, he and his son now owned the Austin Canning Company.
1908 was another trying time for the company, as once again there were financial difficulties. J.S. was thrilled to have I.C. as a partner and both men vigorously pursued paying off the debt they owed. But there were still challenges to keep the plant running during the slow season and once again the reserve was nearly exhausted.
In 1909 the Morgan family was attacked again by Typhoid fever, this time the victim was J.S.’s oldest daughter Goldie, who was 24 years old and had married Delmar Weir in 1908. Goldie could not fight off the vicious disease like her father had in 1906, and just before Christmas she succumbed to the disease like hundreds of other Americans in the early part of the 20th century. Goldie Morgan Weir was considered a blessing to her father and she was extremely close to her brother I.C., her death devastated both men. Scott County Historian Carol Susnick (2003) said the Morgan family was not able to celebrate Christmas that winter due to the deep emotional pain. The effects lasted for years according to Susnick, “For years I.C. and his wife Fern, would not put up a Christmas tree because of the pain it brought them.” Susnick added that others in the family noticed that J.S. was really never the same after the loss of his daughter, and Christmas really didn’t matter to him much after that. Delmar Weir, her husband was said to have suffered deep depression for many years.
Unknown but Useful Stories about J.S. Morgan
By most accounts J.S. Morgan was considered aloof, unfriendly and unapproachable. This opinion may have come about due to his lack of trust or faith in most people other than his family. J.S. Morgan was a hard man, but he was a man of his time. Industrialism was catching on in America; factories were rising and falling all over the country. Only the strong would survive, J.S. Morgan was one of the strong. He grew up on a farm, educated himself, became a school teacher and a general store owner, and now he owned a canning factory. He was not vastly interested in the opinion of others; he was more about running his business, and fighting to make sure all the hard work wasn’t for nothing. He was intense and he was a man of integrity. His expectations of others were simple, to work as hard as he did.
There was another side of J.S. Morgan that not many people knew about other than his family. Former Scott County Sheriff Gordon Julian was born in Austin in 1932, and has fond memories of stories about J.S. from his father Otto Julian.
Gordon was one of seven brothers who worked on his father’s farm, and supplied the canning company with vegetables from their farm. J.S., according to Gordon, considered the Julians a trusted supplier and Otto Julian a friend. In 1915 five year old Cloyd Julian (Gordon’s brother) contracted scarlet fever, a potential deadly killer for the time period. Cloyd was sent to the infirmary in Seymour, Indiana for over six months. When Cloyd returned home safely, the news traveled fast in the small community of Austin, and well wishers came to the Julian farm. One of them was J.S. Morgan, who wanted to congratulate the Julian’s on their happy reunion with their son.
During the visit J.S. discovered that the hospital bill was over $600, which would have bought a small farm in the early 1900s. The next day J.S. sent for Otto Julian, and when the two men met in the office of the Austin Canning Company, J.S. offered Otto a check for the full amount of the hospital bill. J.S. advised Otto that no man should owe anyone that kind of money, his advice was reflective of his own core values of not owing debt. Deeply touched Otto, didn’t know what to say or how he’d pay J.S. back. But J.S. had a simple answer for that too, he told Otto they’d settle up out of the Julians crops over the next two or three years. Without a written agreement the two men shook hands, and remained friends for the rest of their lives.
Gilbert Warner (1910-2002) was an Austin businessman for nearly fifty years and in the early 1990’s shared some memories of J.S. Warner actually operated a general store in the former office of the Austin Canning Company in the 1940’s through the 1960’s. He remembered J.S. as an older man who intimidated people without trying too. “He was all business all the time, he didn’t have much time for casual talk and people were very intimidated by him,” said Warner.
Warner also remembered stories of J.S. working in a field with a white dress shirt on. Supposedly J.S. offered a buggy ride to a man looking for work to one of his fields, when they got there J.S. must of decided the crew needed some help and began to pick tomatoes, he stayed there most of the day, he was in his early sixties at the time.
With his son I.C. at his side and the success of surviving through some difficult times, J.S. and the Austin Canning Company were ready for the future. When World War I started in 1914, America was consumed for the safety of the country. War efforts required food to feed troops and allies abroad, and when the government searched for a supplier J.S. Morgan offered the services of the Austin Canning Company. The war created a tremendous demand for canned foods, and the Austin Canning Company benefited from consistent, year round production demands.
The production for the war efforts provided consistent profits, not great but enough to convince J.S. and I.C. it was time to aggressively build the company. The pair expanded the company owned truck fleet to haul their products to their customers. The first truck the company owned had been purchased in 1913, the fleet was growing fast with the purchase of over 20 trucks in the next two years. Facility expansion was also needed and in 1915 the Morgan’s bought a factory in Scottsburg from the Riders group and produced pumpkin and corn at the plant.
Leland McNeely a Scott County resident who worked in the Austin plant in the 1930s, remembers J.S. Morgan as a man who knew his business and cared about every piece of it. “J.S. would walk around the plant when he was an old man checking on everything. If he thought a guy wasn’t doing the job right, he’d roll up his sleeves and show him how to do it. He knew how to do them all because he had done them all. I’m talking about a man in his 70’s at the time, he was a real hard nosed guy,” said McNeely.
Morgan Packing Company
Mass production, new company trucks and expanded facilities weren’t the only thing changing at the cannery during World War I. In 1917, the Austin Canning Company’s name was changed to Morgan Packing Company, and J.S. and I.C. Morgan shared joint ownership of the company. I.C. moved the company’s main office from downtown Austin to the factory where it’s still located today. In fact the office that is the office of John Morgan, is the same office once occupied by I.C. Morgan in 1918 and later Jack Morgan.
A Mansion for J.S. Morgan
With the financial situation improving for the Morgan’s I.C. Morgan built a huge red brick mansion in downtown Austin in 1919. I.C. felt like his father J.S. also should have a mansion and tried to persuade him to have one built too. But J.S. and his wife Mollie were satisfied with the small home they lived in on Main Street. The couple lived in a small white cottage built by a settler named Adam Reynolds in 1856. I.C. encouraged J.S. several times over the next couple of years to build a mansion, but J.S. did not see the need to spend that kind of money on a house. But in 1925 when J.S. and Molly went to California by train on an extended vacation, I.C. decided to build his father a mansion. When J.S. and Mollie returned three months later a mansion was nearly completed on the west side of the one I.C. had built in 1919.
J.S. and I.C. Morgan formed an unbeatable team, and the company began to grow again right through the turbulent 1920s that America faced. While J.S. had a mansion one thing he did not have was an office in the new company headquarters. He kept a small office in the main area of the factory; he wanted to be where he could keep his hands and eyes on every operation of the plant. The company prospered mildly in the 1920s, but it was the 1930s when Morgan Packing Company became a canning empire in America. During the pack season Morgan’s employed over 2,000 employees at its peak. People came from all over the country seeking jobs, where they arrived by bus, foot, bicycles, and trains as stowaways on empty box cars. Austin was a 24-hour town during the pack, the downtown streets and restaurants resembled the hustle and bustle of a big city. This atmosphere continued every pack season for the rest of J.S.’s career which lasted until he was 90-years old. J.S. Morgan kept the Austin Canning Company running when most men quit. His passion for what he believed in and determination to succeed lit the torch which still burns in Austin a century later.
In December of 1948, just a few days before Christmas and with his family at his bedside J.S. Morgan, passed away quietly in the mansion his son built for him.
Author: Mike Barrett (2010)
Bogardus, C. (1953). Centennial History of Austin Scott County, Indiana. Historical Committee of the Centennial Celebration, 1953.
December 30 1948: The Chronicle – Scott County Newspaper
On the death of J.S. Morgan
“He was born on a farm east of Austin, and spent his life in the community, where by hard work and ability he built his concern into one of the largest businesses of its kind in the country.”
“Possessed of tremendous vitality he worked constantly with his son (I.C.), and later on his grandson (Jack) to expand the Morgan firm until it has factories in a number towns in southern Indiana.”
“His heart was always with the community in which he lived and its steady growth gave him much pleasure. He was content to live among his friends and near his business.”
J.S. Morgan Political Speech - 1940 Scott County Indiana
J.S. Morgan Speech 1940
Please click on this link for the words of the speech.
When he addressed the Indiana Republican Party in the 1940’s, J.S. Morgan was one of the most prominent and successful businessmen in Indiana. He was keenly interested in politics and his views and endorsements were widely sought by those seeking political positions. His speech received great reviews and was published in newspapers throughout Indiana.
I.C. Morgan (1880-1949)
Fifty plus years after his death the name I.C. Morgan is still a big name in Austin. There are many reasons for this, but none greater than his vision of a food canning empire and his commitment to expansion and new technology. Like his father he was extremely dedicated to the canning company, while J.S. was more focused on the day-to-day operation, I.C. was focused on the long-term opportunities for Morgan Packing Company in America. To execute his plan he recruited people with experience in the canning industry and to deliver his products he developed the largest private-owned trucking fleet in the country. He wanted mass production, efficiency and the best quality for the Scott County name brand foods.
I.C. Morgan was born in Austin on August 26, 1880. He grew up happy and his days were filled hanging out at his father’s general store, where he ran errands by delivering medicine and food to people in the town. He liked delivering goods to his father’s customers and found he was a welcome visitor. Perhaps this is where he learned to talk to people and to take the time to understand them. Young I.C., also spent a lot of hours on the empty lots of Austin playing baseball with other kids, a sport he deeply loved.
The many hours he spent in the pharmacy of his father’s general store contributed to his strong interest in medicine. At an early age he told others he wanted to become a medical doctor. It has been said by many close to the family during this period that young I.C., was deeply disappointed that his father could not afford to send him to medical school. Instead I.C. attended one year of business school at the Indianapolis Business College, before returning to Austin to run the general store while J.S. Morgan ran the cannery.
In 1905, I.C. married Fern Harrod and their first child was born on April 6, 1905, a son, Ivan Harrod Morgan who became commonly known as Jack Morgan. I.C. and Fern would have two more children, one in 1910 a daughter Marion Morgan Lyons (1910-2004) and in 1913 another daughter Margaret Morgan Renard (1913-2004). (Fern Harrod's father was C.F. Harrod, who was recognized as one of Austin's most distinguished citizens. C.F. Harrod passed away in 1925.)
By 1907, I.C. was heavily involved with the cannery, his goal of becoming a doctor now forgotten. But he had held onto another one of his childhood dreams, baseball. I.C. brought professional baseball to Austin in the form of a semi-pro team that played in the Southern Indiana Baseball League for over 45 years. In the early days I.C. was a star player for the Austin Packers, the nickname Packers was given to the team after Morgan Packing Company. I.C. loved competition and sports seemed to be a perfect outlet for the rugged 6’2” two hundred pound man, which was considered a huge man for the early 1900s in the United States.
Don Garriott played for the Austin Packers in the 1930s and '40s when I.C. was the coach, but remembers hearing that I.C. was a great player. “As an athlete I’m told I.C. was really ahead of his time. Guys that were old enough to remember him said that he could really play and was good enough to play in the majors.” Garriott added that I.C. recruited heavily for his baseball team, giving ballplayers year round jobs if they would sign a contract to play for the Packers. “If you were really good he’d find you a place to live and pay the rent, at one time he had about ten guys living in houses he owned for free.” I.C. loved baseball so much that in the early 1900s he built a small baseball stadium on property that adjoined the factory on the east side just across the railroad tracks (Later the American Can Company was built on this site). In the early 1920s he built another ballpark, that seated over 500 people just south of the plant's main entance and was the main attraction of Austin for many years. I.C. loved for employees of Morgan Packing Company to attend games and on many occasions games were sold out. In 1934, I.C. paid outrageous wages for a big reputation pitcher named Hickory Ferrell, who led the Packers to the 1936 Southern Indiana League Championship. Ferrell and Morgan shared a love of competition, beyond baseball. The two men traveled across the United States on hunting trips where they engaged in fierce competition. They traveled to Philadelphia to watch a heavyweight championship fight that featured world champion Joe Louis.
The baseball stadium wasn’t the only thing I.C. Morgan built in Austin. In 1919 he built a beautiful mansion in the heart of Austin, and its uniqueness is still admired by travelers to the community. I.C. and his wife Fern loved their new home, and made it the gathering place for all holidays and family functions. On many pleasant evenings I.C. and Fern could be seen sitting on the porch, which was connected to the westside of the mansion. In 1923, I.C. built his father J.S. Morgan a mansion similar to his, on the other side of the road from his home.
I.C. Morgan was a huge man and a rugged individual who loved the outdoors and his presence commanded respect. I.C. just didn’t have a dream of a food canning empire he was committed to it. It was his idea to expand operations and in the middle of the turbulent '20's his ideas became reality. Morgan Packing Company factories opened in nearby Indiana communities like Scottsburg, Edinburg, Columbus, Brownstown, Underwood, Redkey, Franklin, Converse, Leota and Little York. The Brownstown and Scottsburg plants produced both pumpkin and corn. The Columbus and Edinburg plants were mainly devoted to tomato products, while the Franklin plant produced beans and corn.
I.C. Morgan worked hard to convince his partner and father J.S. Morgan that mass production was the key to manufacturing success in America. In the 1930s industries across America adopted this concept which changed the way companies viewed maintenance and inventory levels. I.C. Morgan wanted preventive maintenance programs in place long before they were viewed as an industrial must. I.C. analyzed the operations much like J.S. had, only with a different perspective. J.S. searched for ways to cut back expenses while I.C. searched for ways to improve efficiencies by exposing deficiencies. He believed investment in new machinery protected the company from having to cutback operations due to mechanical failures. I.C. loved new technology and was willing to pay for it; he spent thousands of dollars replacing old machinery with new machinery.
In order to meet mass production demands I.C. invested in the Retort operation and in the 1930s there were over 200 retorts. All products with the exception of tomatoes were processed in live steam at temperatures over 240 degrees. By this time Morgan Packing Company was making a huge impact in homes across America. The company was shipping their Scott County Brand name to the east coast, deep into the south and all over the mid-west. In just a short time I.C. Morgan had taken Morgan Packing Company from an Indiana canner to a national canning empire.
As history indicates I.C. was deeply involved with the community of Austin. In the 1930s he built a huge dance hall in downtown Austin, and provided weekend entertainment. He also built a huge cafeteria and offered meals at a very affordable price for Austin citizens and visitors. The cafeteria remained open for nearly 40 years, and during the pack season close to 2,000 people were served on a daily basis.
I.C. Morgan was a great man of character who did not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, but while he didn’t smoke he often handed out packs of cigarettes to those who did. His generosity extended to the school systems, where he donated building materials for new schools and purchased books and athletic equipment. Former Austin High School Principal Leland Langdon, said in 1988, that I.C. was the most charismatic man he had ever known. “When he entered a room everyone quit doing what they were doing, to see what he was doing,” added Langdon. And Don Garriott added in 2002, “I.C. knew his business, but he was willing to listen to others. That’s really what helped define him as a great person, he made others feel important.” There were no slow days for I.C. Morgan, his interests extended beyond business and even baseball. In 1932, he was named the head of the Indiana Republican Party State Committee.
I.C. liked to surprise people with his generosity as was the case in 1941. After a long Pack season and many long hours, he sent the entire Morgan Packing Company main office employees to Florida by train, for an all-expenses paid vacation. I.C. believed the future of Austin depended on Morgan Packing Company, and he donated lumber and materials to local business owners to help build newer buildings and churches near the downtown business area. Joe Shields was a 1948 Austin High School graduate who went to college and earned his degree at nearby Hanover College. Joe’s father Lloyd Shields, a local businessman was friends with I.C. Morgan, and Joe played for the Austin Packers baseball team while he was in high school. Joe has fond memories of I.C. Morgan. “He really cared about Austin and had a great interest in the community; he wanted good people to live here because he knew how important they were to the success of his company.” Shields also stated that I.C. had a special quality when it came to helping others. “He loved to help people, but back in those days’ people had a lot of pride and wanted to earn their way. So when I.C. helped someone, he went out of his way to make them feel like he was helping them because they were partners and not because they needed a handout. A lot of people would have done anything for I.C. because they knew he was there for them.”
In the 1940s America ran into hard times again, this time World War II along with the threat of invasion by German leader Adolph Hitler, created a fear in America not experienced since the Civil War. American businesses were disrupted and Morgan Packing Company was no exception. It had been many years since the company faced such dire financial circumstances. One problem was a depleted work force, most young men were sent off to defend the United States. In order to keep the cannery in operation I.C. sought profitable government contracts, which included making food for the Armed Forces. He lobbied as many political powers as he could, and eventually the company was awarded a huge contract. He was still faced with finding enough people to staff the operation. A lot of women from the community were already working at the plant, so I.C. turned to the government again, in what turned out to be one of the most interesting pieces of history in the town Austin.
As the war escalated, Prisoners of War (POWs) were sent to the United States and in some cases the POWs were loaned out to companies who had been granted government contracts. Morgan Packing Company was one of those companies and under the guard of the United States Army more than 1,500 German prisoners were stationed in Austin. During the World War II era there were three generations of Morgan’s working at the plant, J.S. Morgan, I.C. Morgan and I.C.’s son Jack Morgan. After the war the company rebounded again, and in the late forties Morgan Packing Company was the most stable canning company in Indiana.
In December of 1948, an aging and tired J.S. Morgan passed away, but soon the family was faced with another tragedy. On February 1, 1949 after feeling ill for several weeks I.C. Morgan suffered a cerebral hemorrhage at his mansion, and was rushed to a hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. For the next three weeks his condition weakened, and on February 26, 1949, I.C. Morgan took his last breath and perished into eternity. I.C.’s death was met immediately with mourning in the town of Austin, he was a man of great character and no one knew that better than the citizens of Austin who had been inspired by his commitment to the community on many occasions.
I.C. Morgan was a man who left an impression on those who knew him. Not just in Austin but across the United States. In the March 1949 issue, the National Trade Magazine published the following obituary.
“I.C. Morgan was a colorful man, whose competition for nearly forty years had driven many other vegetable canner to distraction or thereabouts; who revived the moribund town of Austin, where he was born and turned it into an industrial center; who made himself a power in the Republican Party affairs, who headed the largest one man canning enterprise ever built and made it make money. I.C. Morgan was a large man with a powerful personality, who neither drank nor smoke. The tern rugged individualist may well have been originated to apply to I.C. Morgan, a man who will be deeply missed.” (National Trade Magazine, 1949.)
In this late 1940s photo I.C. Morgan (left) is pictured with his son Jack Morgan. This photo was taken just a few months before I.C's unexpected death. I.C. had been feeling ill for months but did not want anyone to know.
Author: Mike Barrett (2003)
I.C. Morgan Facts: Source Indianapolis Star. February 14 1932
I.C Morgan was born in Austin Indiana on August 26, 1880
His Grandfather Nathan Morgan and two of his uncles fought for the Union in the Civil War
In 1932 he was named the Indiana State Republican Committee Chairman
In 1932 Morgan Packing Company employed 1,500 people
He was 6’1” and weighed 225 pounds in 1932
He did not drink or smoke, and when asked about why he wasn’t a drinker he responded: “Well, I saw it get the best of some of the boys, so I thought I would leave it alone.”
He had a fondness for light colored suits. In the midst of winter he will swing into Indianapolis in a gray suit that is almost white. He is seldom seen in dark clothes.
By 1932 he had attended every Republican State Convention since 1904. He attended the 1920 national convention in Chicago and was a delegate to the 1924 convention at Cleveland.
Other Voices: Mary McClain Bowen
June 21, 2011
The Pack and the Whistle
Mary (McClain) Bowen was born in 1932 and is a lifelong Austin resident. She retired in the 1990s after 29 years, from the Austin school systems where she was a financial administrator. Mary was also the Jennings Township (Austin) Assessor for 44-years, which is an elected position.
“I can remember working at Morgan Packing Company as a teenager with my mother and sister during the pack season in the 1940s. “The Pack” was really a big deal in Austin and in fact school did not start until the pack season was over. Near the end of the pack a lot people didn’t know if they would be needed or not so Morgan’s decided to set up a help alert, by using the whistle.”
“If they needed help they would blow the whistle at 6AM for four short blasts which meant H-E-L-P. Who ever got their first would get to work, and we lived on Church Street just a couple of blocks away so we always got to work.”
Jack Morgan (Early 1980s)
This picture of Jack Morgan in his 70s at the time is considered to be a favorite, among the thousands of people that worked for the Morgan family over the years. The look reminds us that he was the "Boss" and a man who never backed down from a challenge.
Jack Morgan (1906-1985)
Ivan Harrod Morgan was born April 19, 1906 in a small white cottage in downtown Austin. The son of I.C. and Fern Morgan would become commonly know as Jack Morgan, and one of the most significant figures in the history of Scott County Indiana. Jack’s legacy remains strong in Austin, even though he passed away in 1985.
Jack Morgan’s distinguished career is defined like that of his father and grandfather, in that all three men rose to the occasion when similar companies were forced to close their doors due to poor economic conditions. Jack was no stranger to a good fight and there were many in his life. His battles with the Teamsters Union are legendary in Austin, as were his efforts to persuade town officials to incorporate and upgrade the town’s water and sewer systems. His greatest challenge however, was his fight against the worse economic time period in the modern era history of Scott County, which occurred in the late 1960s and early '70s. With a determination exemplified by his predecessors I.C. Morgan and J.S. Morgan, Jack managed to keep the operations going at Morgan Packing Company, as he understood what the factory meant to his hometown, and perhaps his own legacy.
As a youngster Jack was well known in his hometown, he was constantly by his father I.C.’s side whether it was at the factory, a political rally or on the baseball field. Eager to learn about the plant at an early age, Jack would hangout in the company’s print and machine shops. He bragged to family and friends of the many tasks he performed at the plant. Jack delighted in spending as much time as he could with his father and the factory. During his days as a young boy, Jack and his two sisters Margaret (1911) and Marion (1913) would meet their father and grandfather for lunch almost everyday.
Fern Morgan demanded that her children take education very seriously, and as a schoolteacher she devoted herself to their educational endeavors. Jack excelled as a student at Austin Elementary, but because Austin High School was not a fully commissioned high school, he attended Scottsburg High School in Scott County. When Jack graduated from high school in 1924, Purdue University in Indiana, with a strong reputation as the leading agricultural university in the United States is where he decided to attend college. While Jack understood the opportunities Purdue allowed him, West Lafayette, was not his kind of town. Before long he became unhappy and began to think about a place where his parents had taken him on vacation, sunny Southern California. A few months later he enrolled at the University of Southern California, where his Hollywood good looks and flamboyant personality seemed like a natural fit.
It is at USC, where he earned his degree and learned new methods for running a business. But when it came close for him to graduate some family and close family friends doubted whether the flamboyant Jack Morgan, would return to Austin. After all, his fast-paced life style seemed better suited for the West Coast, than the small town of Austin. And for a short period, he did pursue business interests in California, but eventually the lure of the Morgan Packing Company empire, snagged him back to his hometown. He also knew that joining the company would allow him to work side by side with the man he admired most, his father, I.C. Morgan.
When Jack returned to Austin from California, he received an uncommon amount of hype and attention from the small community. This type of attention would follow him for the rest of his life in the community, something that many believed he relished in. Tall, tanned, well-dressed, educated and remarkably handsome, Jack Morgan was ready to make his mark. He was eager to implement many of his new business ideas and he quickly earned the trust of his father, I.C. Morgan. I.C. thrust Jack into an important role with the company, and put him in charge of the outside plant locations. Under Jack’s guidance the outside plants flourished, as he continued to learn the business from the man considered by many in the country as the best canner in America, his father. Jack was able to help build the company by using his education, and relying on the vast knowledge of his father and grandfather. When it came to the operations side of the plant, Jack spent a lot of time on the floor learning from employees who were doing the jobs. Of course Jack was very familiar with many of the processes, having grown up in the plant.
In the 1930s Morgan Packing Company was in the height of its glory, the company had become a national canning empire. The Austin plant now employed over 2,000 people, and a few of the outside plants were offering year round employment. Jack was convinced that if each outside plant specialized on certain products, the Austin plant would be able to specialize in a variety of new products. Up to this point Morgan Packing Company was known primarily as a tomato and corn canning business. Under Jack’s guidance the company’s focus changed and the Austin plant began to produce catsup, carrots, peas, lima beans, green beans, hominy, mixed vegetables and sauerkraut. In the 1930s Morgan Packing was the number one supplier of sauerkraut in the United States. With the outside plants producing corn, pumpkin and of course tomatoes the Austin plant continued to grow. But even with the success of the new products and the outside plants, the Austin plant still produced tomato products, as their number one item. Jack was committed to his father’s vision for Morgan Packing Company and he worked diligently with him.
An American Beauty
While the Scott County named brand products continued to be successful, Jack wanted a new name for the new products. His idea was to have a name that would catch the eyes of Americans looking for something new when they went to the grocery store; he decided to name the new products American Beauty. With Jack combining his talents as the company spokesperson, along with his business skills he successfully promoted the American Beauty label into the market, with fast and profitable returns. American Beauty products from Austin Indiana ended up in homes all across America, and Jack Morgan was making his mark.
Jack was instrumental in convincing the American Can Company to build a plant next to Morgan Packing Company in Austin. He wanted faster service of the cans he needed to run his operations. In 1936, The American Can set up shop on property sold to them by Jack. The American Can Company literally was constructed next door to Morgan’s, separated only by the railroad tracks. There were no shipping charges from the American Can to Morgan’s because there were no trucks needed. A catwalk was built over the railroad tracks which connected the two facilities, and inside the catwalk was a conveyor belt which transported the empty cans into the Morgan production area. Sometimes cans in carts were pushed over through the catwalk as well. Fourteen years after the American Can closed its doors in 1986; the catwalk still existed but was torn down in 2000. The American Can Company provided hundreds of well paid jobs in the Scott County area and was vital to the local economy for over 50 years.
Elsinore Funk Morgan
(At left is Jack and Elsinore Morgan in the late 1930s)
In 1937 Jack married a stunningly beautiful woman named Elsinore Funk from Milltown, Indiana. The couple built a charming home just east of the Austin town limits, and started their family with the birth of Ivan Edward Morgan in 1939. A daughter Michele Morgan was born in 1943 and a third child Diann was born in 1944. The last child of Jack and Elsinore was born in 1947, a son John Scott Morgan.
Elsinore was very involved with her children and shared her love of horses with them. She was a celebrated World Champion show rider and traveled across the United States competing in events. Her passion for horse show competition was shared by her children, and soon the Morgan children were also known as accomplished riders.
End of the 1930s
While Jack was establishing himself as one the nation’s prominent business leaders, he was also faced with a series of ugly and disruptive labor disputes in Austin. These disputes led to work stoppages which created intense and sometimes a series of dangerous events. With the small town closely connected to the factory, the labor disputes often created strong emotional bonds that often led to acts of violence towards the company. Jack however was not deterred and frequently battled union issues for the rest of his career, which many believe was a fight he enjoyed.
In the 1940s Jack Morgan was in charge of the company but he relied heavily on his father I.C. Morgan. With America in an economic slow down and World War II fast approaching, Morgan Packing Company was suffering along with the rest of the country. When the war did start in 1944, many of the company’s employees were called to serve the country. While local women attempted to fill jobs and the company advertised across five states their intent to hire, there weren't enough people to replace the vacancies.
In order to keep production going in factories across America like Morgan’s, the government decided to loan out prisoners of war for production work. I.C. Morgan lobbied political leaders for the use of German prisoners (POW’s) stationed in Camp Atterbury in Columbus Indiana. From August 1944 through April 1946, German POWs were stationed at POW Camp Austin just north of the factory on Morgan property. As many as 1,500 POWs were stationed there at one time.
While I.C. negotiated the agreement with the government for the service of the POWs it was Jack who was in charge of the operation. By the time the POW camp was inactivated near the end of the war, Camp Austin was rated as one the highest POW Camps in America. Jack established good relations with military personnel and the POW’s seemed to recognize his power. Even though the German POW’s seldom had contact with Jack they knew he was the guy running the show. They called him the “groB der chef” meaning Big Boss” or “groB Mann” meaning Big Man.
During World War II Morgan Packing Company reported profits despite the depletion of the local work force, this indicates that the POWs service at Morgan’s was well organized and very productive.
Don Garriott was employed at Morgan’s for over 40 years and was a company Vice President when he retired. Garriott noticed that Jack sought out information like no one he’d ever met. “Jack was known to ask a lot of questions, he wanted to make sure he had every piece of information available in order to make a decision. He was constantly thinking about the future of the company, he made the final decision but he did seek a lot of information. Jack was the guy who made the decision there was doubt about that, but not before he asked a lot of questions.”
Culver Field worked for Morgan Foods for 65 years before he retied in 2002, and is the last person to have worked for the four generations of J.S. Morgan, I.C. Morgan, Jack Morgan and John Morgan. Field’s, too, remembered Jack’s penchant for information. “Jack knew he was going to make the final decision so he asked a lot of questions. Sometimes he’d ask the same question over and over to make sure he got the same answer. Jack wanted to know everything; he didn’t want any surprises when it came to running his business.”
The Passing of Two Legends
In a period of three months, two of the most prominent and powerful men in the history of Scott County passed away. One was expected but the other came as a shock to the community and Morgan family. On December 21, 1948, the founder of the company J.S. Morgan, Jack's grandfather passed away quietly at his home at the age of 90. Just three months later in February of 1949, I.C. Morgan suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away at a hospital in Louisville Kentucky. The emotional strain on the Morgan family was overwhelming, and for Morgan Packing Company over 90 years of combined leadership had perished within 90 days.
Jack Morgan was just 43 years old and now solely in charge of one of the nation’s largest canning companies. The future of the company and in many ways the town of Austin was in his hands. Jack would face this challenge for the rest of his life, working to keep his grandfather’s company running and providing jobs for hundreds in Scott County.
“It didn’t matter where Jack was at or what he was doing, people noticed him. ” Long time Morgan Foods employee Culver Field on Jack Morgan.
In the photo above Jack is in the white suit pictured with Republican Party leaders at the National Republican Party in 1948.
1950s – New Modern Equipment – Same Old Labor Disputes
Once again manufacturing was changing in America with a wave of newer and faster machinery the food canning business was more competitive than ever. At the Chicago Machine Show in the 1950’s a new labeling machine caught the eye of Jack Morgan. “Jack was very excited about the new labeler,” remembered Don Craig a former Vice President of sales who retired in the mid 1990’s. "Jack told us the company would never be the same, no more labeling by hand, and by golly, he was right. We changed overnight."
With the addition of new labeling lines Morgan Packing was labeling more cans than ever, which meant faster service to customers. The railcar business expanded after a slow period in the late 1940’s, and the company’s truck fleet was constantly on the go. Morgan Packing was picking up full steam when an old adversary slowed the company down again, labor disputes.
Over the years, Jack's battles with the union have been scrutinized and told over and over in the small community, to the point where they have become a part of his legacy. By many accounts, Jack Morgan rather enjoyed his rivalry with the union. In November of 1954, the Teamsters (Truck Drivers) voted to strike at Morgan Packing Company, in what would lead to one of Indiana's ugliest union disputes. While the truckers went on strike, the rest of the plant attempted to operate as normal. Jack Morgan decided to use a group of private truckers to haul the company's products. As tensions mounted, the worse was inevitable as a series of dynamite incidents kept the small community on edge.
First there was a blast that blew open water lines halting production. Before long other blasts occurred to cars, railroad switches and to trucks hauling Morgan products. Fights broke out at the picket lines; gunshots could be heard being fired at the walls of company buildings all hours of the day and night. Private truckers were threatened; Austin was the focus of media all across the state, the publicity of the town was not positive. Indianapolis papers portrayed the town as down trodden, and a town ran by a bunch of roughens. As much as Jack was at odds with the strikers, he didn’t like the way the town of Austin was being portrayed in newspapers across the state. He used his influence to have articles re-written and the image of Austin re-painted. A Jefferson County, Indiana, paper used the term "Pistol City" to describe Austin. The unpopular nickname is sometimes still used, by outsiders of the community today. Indiana Governor George N. Craig ordered the Indiana State Police to Austin, where they were stationed for weeks. Craig also made several statements to the media in support of Jack Morgan. The Indianapolis Star put up reporters in hotels in nearby Scottsburg; the events of the day were reported daily. Not to be outdone by all the media hoopla and finagling of the striking truckers, Jack Morgan pulled some strings of his own.
The following story has been told by several different people in a very similar manner. By all accounts of the story, Jack Morgan decided it was time to take matters in his own hands. Private truckers out of fear had quit coming to the plant, to pick up goods during the strike. One morning it was reported to Jack, that several truckers waited in nearby Seymour, Indiana, to hear if they could go to Morgan's without incident. Jack then went to the company garage, and he drove a truck and empty trailer out the gate to Seymour. Once he arrived in Seymour he did not tell the concerned truckers he was Jack Morgan, instead he portrayed himself to be a truck driver. Jack led them to believe that he had already been to Morgan's earlier, and picked up a load without any trouble. He enticed them, by saying he was going back for another load and they should come too. Encouraged the private truckers listened as Jack told them, stay in single file and do not to stop for anyone at the picket lines. A short time later with Jack in the lead and nine trucks following him, they barreled through the gate inside the plant. Once they were loaded, including Jack's truck, he led them back out the gate. With a shotgun in the front seat, Jack waved to the angry striking truckers who recognized him. Don Craig remembered the incident, "Jack Morgan wasn't afraid of anyone, he loved a good fight. Jack said that around Crothersville he saw some strikers in cars trying to get around the trucks, but the truckers squeezed them off the road. I don't think those other truckers ever did realize he was Jack Morgan." In January of 1955, the contract was settled and peace was restored in Austin, Indiana.
Jack Morgan was now bigger than ever in the town of Austin. Jack not only owned the huge canning company, he owned several impact businesses in Austin such as a gas station, the largest supermarket in town, a Dairy Queen, and the town bank. Jack also owned the utility company that supplied water to both company and community, something he provided for free to the towns people. There was a huge cattle farm which was horseshoed around the outskirts of Austin. All his hard work was certainly paying off.
Of all the trials and tribulations that Jack Morgan had endured, none prepared him for the hardest and most trying time of his life. In 1964, Jack's oldest son Ivan, just 25 years old took his own life at his apartment in Louisville, Kentucky in what was reported as an accidental overdose. Jack Morgan and his family were devastated. Deeply hurt, it was weeks before Jack returned to his office at company headquarters.
The 1960s were also a challenging time for the company; production was slowed by Mother Nature as droughts affected several pack seasons. The existing outside seasonal plants were becoming huge financial burdens, in both maintenance and taxes. The tomato and pumpkin market was also changing. For years Indiana had a stronghold on the tomato market, which greatly benefited a company like Morgan's. A tomato first produced at Purdue University, and called the "Epic" would eventually lead to the demise of Indiana’s stronghold on the tomato market. This tomato favored the California climate and was capable of being mechanically picked. Since that time, California has out produced all other states in tomatoes.
To make matters worse for Morgan’s, a huge fire occurred at the main warehouse in 1967, threatening the entire facility. Fortunately, no one was hurt but the company lost millions.
Morgan’s Grocery Store and Cafeteria
Jack Morgan knew how to run his businesses, and owning the county’s largest supermarket was big business. Jack knew the grocery business as good as anyone, after all the Morgan Family had been in the grocery business since the 1880s, longer than they had been running a factory. Jack would meticulously review competitor’s ads and adjust his prices accordingly, in most cases going even lower than his competitors. Jack knew his customers were not immune to the lure of the new modern grocery stores, but he also knew the two things customers wanted the most, and that was low prices and quality products.
There was a time when the supermarket was shopped regularly by customers from the nearby counties of Jackson, Washington, Clark and Jefferson. Jack hired excellent store managers in men like Joe Mudd and Elmer York, which both were clear on Jack’s mission of keeping prices affordable and customers happy. He sold his American Beauty products in the store at low prices, which drove competitors crazy in nearby counties.
Jack’s father I.C. Morgan had opened a cafeteria in the grocery store in the 1920s and in the 1960s the cafeteria was still going strong. Meals were inexpensive and very good, and I.C. Morgan rationalized if customers came for a meal they may buy something from the store too. Jack Morgan like his father loved the grocery business and was highly successful in the supermarket arena for over 50 years.
Below Jack Morgan in the white shirt keeps his eyes on things at the Morgan's Cafeteria in the 1940s.
A new decade brought even more challenges as a poor economy forced the company to change directions. Jack Morgan at this point, did whatever it took to keep the company going. New business was brought in without the opportunity for profit, old business was held onto at little profit. Jack's goal during this time was two things; keep production lines running and provide a steady paycheck for employees. Jack knew what his company meant to the town, and he felt personally responsible to the families of his employees. In the past and early in his career Jack could rely on the experience of his father and grandfather. After that Jack relied on his business education from USC and his own experiences. But this problem was different, the economy wasn’t persuaded much by education or experience, so Jack did the only thing he could do, operate on a gut feeling based on everything he knew about the business. Never in the company’s storied history was so much at stake, and Jack soon realized the company was in need of change and perhaps a new face.
Jack began to work closely with his son John Morgan. Jack named John company president in 1974 when John was just 27 years old. John, a University of Cincinnati graduate was well versed in the operations of the company, as like his father he grew up in the plant. John however knew these were tough times for the company and for now the glory days were a thing of the past, Morgan Packing Company continued fighting the worse economic times of its history.
Even though labor disputes weighed heavily on company officials, Jack did not seem to get tired of his ongoing confliction with union forces. Even with the economy in poor condition in the early part of the 1970s Morgan Packing Company still offered plenty of work during the pack season. Jack and company officials were surprised when many positions went unfilled during the open hiring season. Jack was well aware that some of the jobs were hard difficult positions, but he knew plenty of people that needed work in the area. When the positions remained vacated Jack transported migrant workers up from Mexico, and built a camp with small apartments to house them on Christie Road in Austin.
Once again labor issues arose and complaints were filed against Morgan Packing Company for unfair labor practices. When investigated the government found no wrong doings on the part of Morgan Packing Company and the migrant workers returned for several years after that.
The final year for the migrant workers was also the last real clash with the union for Jack Morgan. In 1977 now 71 years old Jack had to deal with another ugly eight-week strike. And once again strikers reacted violently when they felt they weren’t being heard. Tensions were high in the community with all eyes on the situation. Some management personnel had their cars turned over with them in it by strikers at the entrance gate. Company property was being vandalized and the security office was shot at from a far distance in the middle of the night. One afternoon strikers sent word that no office personnel would be allowed to leave the facility without having to fight. Jack was very concerned about the office staff, most of them obviously scared. It didn’t take long for Jack to summon the Governor of Indiana Otis Bowen for help, as the Scott County Sheriff’s office seemed unwilling and incapable of resolving the issue.
After a few frightening hours help arrived in the form of the Indiana State Police riot squad. Dressed in full riot armor over 70 state troopers marched up High Street in Austin, to the factory entrance where strikers rushed away. The riot squad remained in the area for several days before the strike was finally settled.
By the late 1970s Jack and John Morgan were forced to do everything they could to keep Morgan Packing profitable. This meant closing the outside plants which were costing millions each year in taxes and maintenance. As John Morgan took on more control of the company he headed into the 1980s with a lot uncertainty.
1980s (Jack Morgan Saves the Train Depot)
Jack Morgan was fond of supporting local charitable groups and was willing to take up their cause, even beyond financial contributions as was the case in the early 1980s for the Austin Lions Club. Jack believed that Morgan Packing Company owned the old train depot that had been sitting vacant on the company’s property for years, and wanted to donate the building to the Lions Club as a meeting hall. This set off a series of legal disagreements between Jack Morgan and the Railroad Company which believed they owned the structure, and wanted to tear the building down. Eventually the two parties sued each other in an effort to determine the legal owner.
Jack was determined not to lose this fight, and one night attended a meeting at the Lions Club to update the group on the status of the lawsuit. Jack was never one for holding back his words and when he was asked what he thought the outcome would be, he responded in typical Jack Morgan fashion. Speaking in his gravelly voice he told the packed out audience in the depot that he planned on winning the case. “My father told me a long time ago the way you win these cases is to keep suing each other, and hope the other son of a bitch dies before you do. I hope I can last longer than the damn railroad, but if not I want you guys to keep suing them.” Of course the crowd burst out laughing and Jack enjoyed the spotlight, telling them even further, “If they own the damn building they owe me a hell of a lot of back rent for letting it sit on my property all these years.” As he believed he would Jack won his fight with the railroad and donated the building to the Lions Club, where it is now a charming showcase for the town of Austin.
Jack Morgan's Last Fight - Legend Passes Away at 78
With John Morgan leading the way the company took on a new vision. John realized the plant was in need of many changes and he was willing to make them. He invested in new equipment, and hired individuals with strong backgrounds in quality and the canning industry. He also realized the market was changing and directed the company to focus on the production and promotion of soups, and offering their products to grocery store chains who wanted their own private label.
Jack Morgan was very pleased and proud with the direction John was taking the company. He seemed to enjoy the peaceful and quieter days without the ongoing labor disputes. John opened communications more frequently with union leaders and issues were less eventful. His leadership style was different than his father’s but just as effective. John supported a collaborative style of management while Jack believed only one person was in charge, himself.
By 1984, John Morgan had led Morgan's back into a strong place in the market. For Jack Morgan the company's turnaround continued to give him peace of mind despite poor health. Jack was now fighting his greatest battle, pancreatic cancer, and just as he had fought so many other obstacles in his life, he fought long and hard. Just short of his 79th birthday, Jack Morgan passed away on March 24, 1985.
A few days later funeral services were held for the legendary figure as thousands reached out to the Morgan family, both locally and from across the country. Even his adversaries honored him and despite all of the labor battles it was obvious, there was great respect and admiration for him among union leaders.
A trademark started in Austin by Jack Morgan in the 1930s, is the blowing of the Morgan Packing Company Whistle, which sounds like that of a steamboat and can be heard for miles. On the day Jack Morgan was buried, company officials sounded the whistle as his last rites were being read at a nearby cemetery. It was a cool, overcast spring day and as the whistle mournfully sounded in the background, an eerie silence fell across the town; Jack Morgan was gone.
Written by Mike Barrett (2010)
Writer's Note: Elsinore Morgan unexpectedly passed away with a heart attack in 1988.
Bogardus Carl R. (1953)
Dinnen, Stephen P. (1993) A History of Morgan Foods
1951 -Mrs. Jack Morgan with "The Raider"
1951 – Austin Indiana – Elsinore Morgan with “Raider” the 1951 Kentucky State Fair Champion. “Raider” was a 9-year old Golden Palomino parade horse and won the Palomino Parade Championship in Indianapolis in the spring of 1951.
According to the Scott County Journal (August 7, 1952) the Silver-mounted saddle and equipment used on Raider, was probably the most elaborate parade ensemble being used in the United States.
Other Voices: Marshall Houchen
July 3, 2011
Beulah Marshall (Adkinson) Houchen was born in 1917 in Harrodsburg Kentucky. In the early 1930s her father Lloyd Adkinson, came to Scott County and worked on a farm in Lexington Indiana. Marshall and her siblings would visit the area during the summers and by around 1932 or 1933 her father was working at Morgan Packing Company. It was then that Marshall came to Austin and worked in the pack at Morgan’s as a teenager. After high school in 1935, she left Kentucky for good and returned to Indiana to seek fulltime work at Morgan’s, she has lived in Austin since. All together she worked at Morgan Packing (Morgan Foods) for about 40 years on and off.
At the time of this interview on 7/3/2011 Marshall was just a few months short of her 94th birthday, and still living in the home on South First Street in Austin that she and her husband Emil Houchen purchased in 1947. (Emil found employment at the Speed Indiana Cement Plant in 1939, and right before his retirement he passed away in December of 1979. The Houchen’s had one daughter, Sharon, a 1967 Austin High School graduate.)
Marshall Houchen on Morgan Packing Company
“When I first started working there in the 1930s and in the pack season the Morgans were in need of help, so they would allow women to bring their children with them while they worked on green beans. People couldn’t afford baby sitters back then.”
“I worked on the tomato and green bean lines doing different things. On the tomato line I would peel tomatoes with a peeling kife after they had been scalded. They peeled really easy because they were scalded, but there were lots of tomatoes. On the green bean line I was paid to pick out bad beans and waxed (yellow) green beans and throw them away. We all had to wear white uniforms. I also worked on the catsup line for bottled catsup. The line was fast and my job was to put caps on the bottles by hand as they came down the line.”
“You would see J.S. Morgan and I.C. Morgan out in the plant just about everyday. J.S. would come right over to the line you were working on. If he was upset about something he would let the workers know. He always wore white shirts, and you would see him everyday. He would had to of been in his 70s at the time.”
John Morgan - - CEO Morgan Foods Incorporated
Mid 1990’s Photo – John Morgan was just 27 years old when his father named him President of Morgan Packing Company in 1974.
2002 - Culver Field with Sarah and John Morgan
2002 - Culver Field, Senior Vice President of Morgan Foods, is flanked by Sarah and John Morgan (Company Owners) at his retirement ceremony. Culver was a Morgan Foods Employee for 64 years. He is the last person to have worked for the first four generations of Morgan’s that owned the company.
Culver was born in Kent, Jefferson County, Indiana on March 27, 1920.
He started working for Morgan Packing Company on July 1, 1938 as a
label machine operator. He worked in various capacities throughout the
company to acquaint him with all phases of the operation.
He was drafted to serve in World War II and was in the Normandy Invasion,
June, 1944. He was wounded in the leg and was air lifted by helicopter
out of the war zone hospital to another hospital.
Culver returned to Morgan Packing Company in 1946, working in the
Sales Department as District Sales Manager. He was quickly promoted
to the following positions: Sales Manager, Vice President of Sales,
Senior Vice President, and was the Senior Vice President of
Corporate Planning when he retired.
2003 Sarah and John Morgan
2003 Austin Sesquicentennial Celebration photo of Sarah and John Morgan. John Morgan was the Grand Marshal. (Photo by Mike Barrett)
Other Voices: Ralph Chasteen
July 20, 2011
Ralph Chasteen was born July 7th, 1919 in Austin Indiana on a farm just outside the town limits. When I interviewed Ralph he was just three days from celebrating his 92nd birthday. Ralph attended the Austin school systems and in 1935 at age 16 he started working for Morgan Packing Company. Ralph worked for the Morgan family for 50 years retiring in 1985. Along with his other responsibilities at the factory he was the personal driver for the Morgan family for close to 40 years.
Ralph served in the United States Army during World War II from 1943-47. He served tours in England, France and Germany. He married Mary Nadine Watson also from Austin and the couple shared two children, Joie Bukowski and Roger Chasteen.
Ralph Chasteen: On working for J.S. Morgan
“He was a real involved fellow and went from the factory to the fields back and forth all day long. He gave me my first break after I helped some guys solve a problem. A couple of fellows were combining a field on J.S.’ farm when they got the combine stuck in a fence. They were having a hard time trying to get it out, so I showed them how to get the combine free. That tickled J.S. because he was glad to get the thing back to work. He pointed his finger at me and said, you’re all right son. From that day on he kept me around and asked me to do special things for him.”
“J.S. was always in a hurry to get things done even though he went everywhere by horse and buggy. He wanted those crops brought in as fast as he could get them; he wanted to get them in the can. He would help work in the field if he had to, he was a tough old fellow.”
Ralph Chasteen: On other jobs at Morgan’s
“When I first started working I worked mainly on the farm. I would go and work in the plant once the crops were laid. On the farm I helped harvest the corn for the factory. I would shuck 70 bushels of corn a day, six days a week for about a month. I did this by hand; we would go right down a line of corn, shucking it as we threw it in the wagon. It was just me and another guy; there were a lot of long days. It was hard work but I enjoyed it.”
“J.S. Morgan paid us in cash, I would go to his house on Saturday night and he would pay me $7.00 and fifty cents for the whole week. That was decent money back then, we would go up and knock on his back door and he would come to the door and pay you. He had a lot of other envelopes with other people’s names on them, I guess everyone else was picking up there pay that way too.”
“When I worked in the plant I would walk with my grandmother from about 3-miles east of town down Booe Road. At the Booe Road railroad tracks we would catch the interurban (electric railcar) into the factory.”
“After the war I was assigned to the trucking department where I was the switcher (moved trailers in and out of docks) for a lot of years. I’d spot as many as 40 trucks in one half of a day.”
Ralph Chasteen: on driving the Morgan limousine for Jack Morgan
“He liked to get there fast, he didn’t care if you drove 100 miles per hour he just wanted to get there fast. He’d say lets go Ralph, I have to get there. Jack’s wife Elsinore is the person who asked me to start driving the limousine for the Morgan family. It was around 1947 or 1948, I was doing some work for them and one day she told me she wanted me to be their driver.”
Ralph Chasteen: On John and Sarah Morgan
“Two top of the line people, treated me great. Of course they treated everyone great. John is a great man and does so much for a lot of people. He’s a real professional, but he treated me like family too. Him and Sarah were really good to me, they remembered things like birthdays, and that means a lot to a person.”
1955 the Jack Morgan Family: In front holding reins is Elsinore Morgan, and Jack Morgan. 2nd row: John Morgan (8 years old), and Diane Morgan (11 years old). In back is Michele Morgan (12) and Ivan Morgan 16.
The CIO Building
February 11, 2011
The CIO building at Morgan Foods is used for the storage of empty cans and for palletizing products as they are released from the processing area. Over the years there have been many discussions on why the building is called the CIO building. Apparently in 1937 when the Union was first formed at Morgan’s, it was the called the C.I.O which was short for the “Congress of Industrial Organizations”. Even though there were over 700 employees at Morgan’s at the time, only thirty of them joined the C.I.O., and all were employed in the company’s construction shop, which is the C.I.O building today.
After that the building was nicknamed the C.I.O building after their allegiance to the union by other employees, and is still called that by management and employees today.
In 1955 the C.I.O. union merged with the American Federation of Labor Union, forming the AFL-CIO union.
Mid 1930s - King Karlo Dog Food produced at Morgan Packing Company
October 2, 2011
A rare photo from the 1930s of a Morgan Packing Company Truck and Trailer operation, promoting the company’s King Karlo Dog Food produced at the Austin plant. The driver standing next to the truck is Claude Gray. Gray’s son David Gray, the Austin Middle School Guidance Counselor contributed the photo.
While Morgan’s has been nationally known for its canned food products for human consumption since 1899, the company also produced dog food in the north end of the plant. The dog food operation existed at the Austin plant, from the 1930s through the 1960s and later was produced at an outside plant. Morgan’s ceased the dog food operation in the 1978s. The King Karlo product was listed in the September 1940 Annual Feed Circular (page 89) distributed by the University of Rhode Island Department of Agriculture, and was noted as one of the top Dog Foods in America.
The picture of the dog on the truck, which was the same photo on the canned King Karlo dog food, is the photo of an English Pointer, believed to be the personal hunting dog of I.C. Morgan.
The Name King Karlo
While the dog on the can is a photo of an English Pointer owned by I.C. Morgan, the name King Karlo derived through a company contest. Morgan offered $5.00 to the employee, who came up with the best name for the brand of dog food he wanted to introduce to the market.
A man named Carl Morton an employee in the company’s traffic department submitted King Karlo, thus the name of the dog food became “King Karlo”.
The photo was taken in Austin at a Gulf Service Station located on the south side of Highway 256 (Main Street) on the corner lot of South 2nd Street, directly west of where of Holland’s Barbershop is today. The house in the far right side of the picture stood on the corner lot of South 3rd Street and is still standing today.
The lettering on the door reads: King Karlo Dog Food - Morgan Packing Company Austin Indiana - (Scott County Canned Foods trailers behind dog food trailer)
Story by Mike Barrett
1914 Austin Packers
The boy on the left is 8-year old Jack Morgan. Third adult from left is I.C. Morgan, who was still playing for the Packers at this time.
1935 Austin Packers
Picture front row L to R: Harry Lagenaur, Freddie Koster, Jake Graff, Jim Reeves, Bill Neal, John Bowen, Left Freshauer, Ed Lyskowinski, Sparky Sourgeon, Cotton Wood, Irvin Jefferies, Ike Herger, Babe Lambert.
Back row L to R: I.C. Morgan, Dude Irvin, Bob Jefferies, Jake Ticing, --- Powers, Phil Elrod, Lefty McGill, George Lambert, --- Ikenberger, Bill States.
Austin Ball Park - Early 1900s
First Austin Baseball Park built by Austin Canning Company for Semi-Pro baseball team Austin (White Sox) Packers. Park was located where the old American Can Building was built.
Circa Early 1900's.
Austin Baseball Park - Early 1900s
Austin Packers Baseball Park - Early 1900's - Austin Indiana
Austin Packers - 1920s
Austin Packers - Semi Pro Baseball Team owned by I.C. Morgan - Circa Mid 1920's
Austin History Photo
Austin Indiana - - Built in 1934 the catwalk above the railroad tracks connected Morgan Packing Company to the American Can. Inside the catwalk were three can lines that transported cans from the American Can directly to the Morgan production lines. The above photo was taken in 2000, just a few hours before it was demolished.
Photo by Mike Barrett
The Two Lives of A Retort Basket
The Retort operation at Morgan Foods is an important part of the cooking process of products. In the early 1900s and for the next 90 plus years, Retorts baskets were used to process vegetables in live steam with temperatures reaching 240 degrees. In the photo above Robert Alcepohl (1980s) is pulling a retort basket from the packing area to a retort kettle. This practice is no longer used and in the late 1990s John Morgan offered the baskets to employees, and as you can see in the photo below they serve different purposes today, in this case as a flower pot at the residence of Sandy and Mike Barrett on South First Street in Austin.
June 30th, 1966 – The Scott County Journal
Forty years ago (1926) fourteen men turned out 80 cans per minute at the Morgan Packing Company, doing the job largely by hand throughout. Today (1966) half that many men can produce 350 cans per minute and no one touches a can.
The company acquired its own printing plant to print its labels and in 1934 the American Can Company built its present (1966) plant at Austin to provide cans for the Morgan firm.
Paragraph 20 & 21
The 75 employees of 1900 have grown to 4,000 today (1966) in all seven Morgan plants, with a company wide payroll of nearly $5,000,000.00.
It is 15th in the nation in sizes among all packing companies and as noted above, is the largest family owned firm of its kind in the world.
Roland Weir Production Manager points out that modern canning practices involves cans flowing from the can-producing plant, by conveyor, to the filling machine, then to the can closer, next to the cooker, then the cooler, the labeler, the caser and all by conveyor. Not a single hand touches a can in its path along the lines.
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