During the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century, Sedalia worked vigorously to persuade new businesses to move to Sedalia. Civic boosters like I. Mac DeMuth printed pamphlets extolling the virtues of Sedalia as a business center — its railroad connections, its affordable real estate, and its population of potential workers who were willing to work for low wages. The Businessmen’s Club sought out business owners and those with adequate capital to finance new factories.
In February 1903, in the midst of a series of articles about existing Sedalia businesses, the Democrat printed an article about another potential business. The article was in the form of a letter from Col. Van B. Wisker.
Wisker advocated that Sedalia open a cannery that would process vegetables. He noted that a cannery had been a popular proposal in late 1902; he claimed men had met him on the street to discuss the possibility of a cannery here. Potential investors had promised to purchase $5000 worth of stock.
A cannery promoter had visited Sedalia with his proposal for a cannery. Sedalians were leery of the proposal, for the promoter wanted a large amount of money for little machinery.
Wisker then consulted with Mr. Farley of the Beiler Grocery Company who had introduced him to Mr. Silver of the Silver Canning Company of Lexington, Missouri. Silver came to Sedalia to look at possible locations for the factory and discuss the issue with railroad officials. Silver made a proposal that included more machinery, and an equally large building for less money than the promoter. Wisker was impressed with Silver’s proposal and invited him to return to Sedalia.
When Silver came back, he and Wisker visited potential investors. The local businessmen made “indefinite promises.” Silver went back to Lexington hoping that when the new year began, Sedalia businessmen would be willing to invest in a new venture. Silver was convinced that investors could realize 20 to 25 percent return on their investment.
A cannery would clearly benefit Sedalia. It would employ from 60 to 100 workers for several months each year. It would purchase the produce of 400 acres of vegetable crops and thus pay between $60 to $80 per acre to those farmers/gardeners who contracted to produce vegetables for the cannery. In addition, a local cannery would keep in local circulation some 50 percent of the money that is spent yearly by consumers who purchased canned goods from other firms.
Wisker lamented to the editor that far too many local businessmen were waiting for someone else to make the first step toward finalizing the investments for a factory. Wisker offered his own reasons for not continuing to work toward a cannery. He said he lived out of town and was unable to attend Businessmen’s Club meetings, he was too busy with his personal business to spend any more time working to get investors, and was he was too old.
Wisker offered his knowledge to anyone willing to take over promoting the cannery. He implored the editor and Democrat readers to consider seriously the possibility of a new business in Sedalia. The editor urged readers to read Wisker’s letter and “act at once” to insure a cannery would open in Sedalia.
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.