Projecting The Past

In Canned Goods, Frozen Foods, Hastings Blossom Festival and Parade, Unilever, Wattie's on February 20, 2012 at 10.46

I was able to pick up some details of the 1959 version of the 11 ounce pea can from the slide images below and in combination with a promotional lighter that Wattie’s issued in the form of the pea can around this time, I was able to recreate it.


I was thrilled to get this batch of slides recently off Trademe for a fairly nominal price , supposedly unpublished images taken by someone inside the Wattie’s plant around 1959; ladies in peaked net hats sorting piles of beans and peas, packing cans into boxes, men prodding things in bits of machinery as men are want to do.


At first I thought they were probably shots taken by a professional photographer commissioned by Wattie’s for a promotional vehicle and as such may have been be a common item handed out as gifts to visitors and employees. It was only when I scanned them at high resolution I realised that they had actually been taken fairly casually, probably by the son or daughter of an employee – who is featured in one or two of the shots. I don’t know on what occasion it was that they were allowed to wander about taking photos of the entire process during production, but I am sure that even then you probably weren’t allowed to pop in, visit Mum and shoot off a roll of film. Maybe he or she offered some photos to management for the privilege. We can only speculate. As you can see it seems they took photographs in both the canning and the freezing facilities at the plants; and probably taken over more than one trip. Objectively, it was still reasonably early days of the freezing process which was started in 1947 by Wattie’s for the Birdseye brand, which I had previously covered in a post here:


I also posted a couple of pictures with it of the Hastings Blossom Festival from the Hastings District Council’s Historic Image Archive Collection; of which the author of the slides has included one image of the same float from the 1958 parade, made from flowers and featuring giant pea cans and boxes. (Sadly just missing out on being the year of the outrageous “Blossom Riot”, which was apparently instigated by “rebellious young people”: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/hawkes-bay-places/2/4.  I think someone must have spiked the spearmint milkshakes at the local tearooms with something.)


I am going to include the captions as written on the slide frames: This one simply said “Wattie’s  – labelling”. You can see the cans and packing boxes clearly.


Caption:“Wattie’s  – 11 oz labelling”.


Caption:“Wattie’s – 11 oz can labelling.”


Caption: Wattie’s  – bean filler.” the women are pushing the beans into a multitude of cans  set in the circular metal dish and then they are taken out and tamped down by hand before sealing and processing.


Caption: ” Wattie’s – can-plant stacked ends”.  


Caption: “Wattie’s  – Q F pea belt”. I think it stands for “quick frozen”. These women are obviously doing quality control for boxed frozen peas.


Caption: “Wattie’s –  quick freeze department wrapping machine”. Note the flat printed pea boxes. I am going to make a recreation of this later in the year.  


Caption: “Wattie’s  – mother at copper 1959”.  I don’t know what the “copper” refers to but it seems to be something to do with the end of the can before it’s sealed.  

Addendum early Sept 2012: A reader tells me this was called a “capper”, not a copper –  this piece of machinery is the seamer for the ends of the cans. 


Caption: ” Wattie’s  –  on top floor Wattie’s Jan 1959″. I have no idea what this equipment is. Possibly vats for freezing fluid of some sort, or perhaps these are pressure cookers. 


Caption: ” Wattie’s – can making plant”. Apparently this position required a degree in standing around day-dreaming. 


Caption: “Wattie’s  – labelling machine”.  Finished eleven ounce  cans rolling out at the end of the process. Now to pack them, and good to go! 

Front design of the factory box for packing two dozen eleven ounce garden pea cans, circa 1959. I’ve recreated this from what I can see in the slides.

Side design of the factory box for packing two dozen eleven ounce garden pea cans, circa 1959. I’ve recreated this from what I can see in the slides.


 Hastings Blossom festival of 1959. In 1958 the garden peas can label design included in the Wattie’s float above was in use (I have a copy of this in my collection), and in 1963 it was being produced again and back on the shelves of supermarkets. I don’t yet know why they changed it for a short time and then changed back a couple of years later, or why they had two very different designs simultaneously. A possibility is that the same float had been used in the parade for a number of years.


Anyway, they must have either started making frozen goods here in Hastings  from the beginning and opened a larger freezing facility in Gisborne, or opened the one in Gisborne first and then after that was established, a facility at the canning plant in Hastings later. Either way I am sure that the snapper didn’t travel to the other plant otherwise I think I can safely say that the shots would be a bit more, dare I say it – “professional”. It’s interesting because they are the only casual colour shots I have ever seen; the same few are usually wheeled out from the Wattie’s archive collection for museums et al – and always black and white and sort of staged. If these really are one-offs, in that respect they are an important find for this genre of Kiwiana collectables. I was able to see exactly what the label of the 11 ounce can of peas looks like in 1959, as well as the two-dozen-can box that the finished product was packed into for shipping -which I have recreated both of here. Also in another shot are flat-packed pea boxes running through a machine which I am going to recreate later in the year. Find of the year I reckon! Well, it was only January. A A

Addendum, early Aug 2013: An ad showed up in a copy of The Weekly News I bought, dated April 11 1956, showing the same label design in use.

aThe Weekly News April 11 1956 - Wattie's garden peas EDIT smla

Addendum, mid March  2014: This wooden crate made for holding sixteen ounce cans came up for auction a few months back. I would assume it’s an earlier version than the ones featured here, due to the logic that wood shipping items, being more expensive to produce,  must have come before cardboard. However judging by the logo, this seems like it probably dates from the 1960s.  The logo went through a number of adjustments over the years which help to identify and date various ephemera to within a particular time frame. Earlier than 1954 the lettering is finer with a markedly taller W which has more dramatic kicks at the top. Assuming I’m right – and this is pretty much definitely the 1960s logo –what their reason was for reverting to wood is , I can’t really say. The fact that the box held double the usual number of large cans is probably a clue as to why they went back to that material. However another possibly conflicting piece of information is that the text makes no mention of the Gisborne factory which could mean that it dates from the 1940s, or very early 1950s. The anomaly of the logo could be down to printing technique or medium used on the material, or the artist that drew the stencil up – but doubtful. After their second major premises opened, I assumed it was a rule that both plants were mentioned on all items, but this may not have been a hard and fast rule.

ashipping box for Watties tinned peas edita

Addendum, late June 2014: This image is of the Wattie’s canned peas lighter promo I mention right at the beginning of the article. They are fairly rare and come up for auction may once every couple of years at most. As it turns out this wasn’t the only lighter issued over the years, though; much rarer is a flip-top enamelled metal lighter with a picture of the pressure cooked peas can printed on it on one side – which was the alternate label design that was run concurrently with this one – and a frozen peas box on the reverse (both featured in the slide above of the Hastings Blossom Parade of 1959).  Image courtesy of reader Kerry O’Connor’s personal collection.

aWattie's canned peas lighter promo Kerry O'Connor edit copy

Addendum, mid June 2015: Another shot of the Wattie’s canned peas lighter promo. Image courtesy of reader Kerry O’Connor’s personal collection.

Wattie's canned peas lighter promo Kerry O'Connor 3



All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2013. All rights reserved.

  1. The Watties pics are a great find. Thanks for sharing.

  2. […] can label was in use between at least 1956-1959, as evidenced by slides I previously wrote about here. This design was also made into a miniature and given away as a promotional lighter, now rare and […]

  3. I have one of these little tins of peas.
    The tins were made in Germany.
    I would love some more information on them if you have it.

  4. […] Projecting The Past I’ve added more images of Wattie’s pea can novelty promotional lighters. I still love this collection as I consider it one of the best lots I’ve ever snagged from a Trade Me auction. […]

  5. Fantastic info. I found one of these lighters in my grandfathers workshop in a tobacco tin, unopened for 40 years. This is the only info I have found on the topic. Very insightful. Thank you very much.

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