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Here today, here tomorrow--that's what you want in a food supplier. Starting with our humble roots as a food packer in 1899, Morgan Foods' evolution is a case study in how listening to customers translates into long-term success.
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Although canning technology had improved by the early 1900s, transportation had not. With no paved roads in the area, Morgan Packing was fortunate enough to have the main north-south line of the Pennsylvania Railroad nearby.
As paved roads came into being, so did the growth of Morgan Packing's trucking fleet. The first truck was purchased in 1913. By the 1930s, Morgan was the nation's largest private fleet operator, with more than 200 trucks. The red, white and blue trucks served as moving billboards for Morgan Packing and helped spread the name throughout the U.S.
Today's fleet consists of 12-14 trailers and about eight tractors. The majority of goods are shipped on trucks owned by Morgan customers or by a private line chosen by Morgan Foods or the customer. Morgan still makes use of the railway system that runs beside the plant, shipping about 20 percent of its goods by train.
Morgan's first print shop began in 1910, making forms, price lists and letterhead on a $150 hand-operated printing press.
In the 1920s, Morgan began printing standard labels, then quickly added features like color, bronzing and embossing. Eventually, the print shop warranted a building of its own.
Over the next 30 years, this building grew to three times its original size. Eventually, Morgan was operating more of this machinery than any other private printing plant in the United States. By the 1950s, the print shop employed 200 people and produced more than one million labels a day.
The year was 1899, and the place was Austin, Indiana. Advances in canning technology—coupled with the region's rich soil and favorable climate—created the perfect environment for a group of entrepreneurial young men to build a canning plant. One young man didn't have the funds to purchase the $500 worth of stock he wanted, so he agreed to work off his debt by serving as president of the company. The young man was Joseph Steely (J.S.) Morgan.
By 1906, J.S. had bought and traded his way into complete company ownership. In addition to his duties as president, he served as general manager, purchasing agent, sales manager and chief timekeeper—personally punching employees' time cards when they came to work and when they left.
In 1906, J.S. became ill with a prolonged case of typhoid fever and brought his son Ivan C. (I.C.) in to help with the business. In 1917, J.S. and I.C. formed a partnership and changed the company name to the Morgan Packing Company. The two men could not have been more different in their approaches to business. J.S. was businesslike, meticulous and often viewed as cold, rigid and aloof. I.C. took a personal interest in his employees and often went out of his way to help them. He even built a dance hall in downtown Austin in 1930 and sponsored a baseball team that played area competitors on summer Sundays.
World War I brought tremendous growth to Morgan Packing Company, creating an enormous demand for canned and processed foods. Morgan received large government contracts, which in turn stimulated new business, additional production facilities and added security—including a white picket fence around the plant.
Over the next several decades, Morgan purchased several plants in surrounding areas, including Scottsburg, Columbus, Franklin, Brownstown, Warren, Redkey and Converse. Due to their expense, however, Morgan later sold most of these facilities between 1980 and 1983, resulting in the elimination of corn and pumpkin.
The advent of World War II saw three generations of Morgans working at the Austin plant, when I.H. (Jack) Morgan—son of I.C. and Fern (Harrod) Morgan—joined his father and grandfather. Jack held his own and was known as a keen businessman who hired good people, gave them a broad idea of what he wanted them to accomplish, and let them go to work. Tragedy struck the Morgan family twice within a three-month period, propelling Jack into the role of president. J.S. Morgan, Jack's grandfather and founder of Morgan Packing, passed away on December 21, 1948, at the age of 90. On February 1, 1949, I.C. suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died three weeks later on February 26. He was 69.
Until the early 1970s, Morgan sold either private-label foods or packed food under its own label. In 1971 it entered the contract (or “co-packing”) business, in which Morgan contracts with another company to pack a product then sell it under that company's name. Currently, Morgan co-packs soups, salsa, chili, hot dog sauces and ingredient beans.
Jack Morgan passed the presidency to his son, John, on Sept. 5, 1974. Jack remained as chairman of the board until he died of pancreatic cancer in March of 1985. As a boy, John spent his time around the plant and never considered any other type of work. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in business administration and started working at the factory full-time in the early 1970s. When he took over the Morgan presidency, he was just 27 years old.
John Morgan has led Morgan Foods to its current focus on private-label soup and other mixed-ingredient products. By 1992, Morgan Foods had already joined Campbell’s as one of the nation’s three largest condensed soup manufacturers. Morgan's current business units focus on private label products. To grow with the times and offer customers the greatest overall value, Morgan Foods has increased its emphasis on research and development and invested heavily in the tools necessary to produce consistently high-quality products.
John Morgan seeks to continue the fine tradition set before him to expand the growth of his company and meet future challenges with tireless innovation.