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Invention of the Smith Butchering Machine

Three men clothed in full length raingear with rain hats and rubber aprons are operating the Iron Butcher. The floor is covered in offal and the men’s outfits are wet. Other workers are visible in the photograph.

Iron Butcher being used to cut fish at the CeePeeCee Cannery, Esperanza Inlet, Vancouver Island 1946 Image I-26239 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives

E.A. Smith invents the Smith Butchering Machine in 1905. Relatively low investment returns in 1900 at his Alaskan salmon cannery inspires Smith to innovate. The low returns were due to a shortage of butchers. Prior to its invention, a cannery needed a group of about 30 highly skilled butchers to prepare enough fish for each canning line.

The machine replaces the butchering crew of thirty with one skilled operator and a few assistants.

The design of this machine requires less floor space than manual butchering tables and similar butchering inventions of its time. The machine removes the head and fins of the fish, slices it open, and removes the offal.

By 1909, this machine is installed in nine canneries along the Fraser River. It wins the top prize at the Pacific Expo in Seattle the same year.

This machine is originally marketed and sold with a racist name, the “Iron Chink,” a derogatory term used to refer to the Chinese butchers it replaced. The machine’s name is not officially changed to the Iron Butcher until the 1970s.

Iron butcher on a canning line with salmon piled on the floor in a the foreground.

Iron butcher. Image E-02993 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives