Los Alamitos Sugar Factory (courtesy OC Archives)

The Los Alamitos Sugar Factory was operated for its original purpose for a little over 20 years – from 1897, when it opened as a state of the art facility and the first beet sugar factory in Orange County.  Within a few years there would be five beet sugar factories in the county, all larger than Los Al.  In 1926, droughts, competition from Cuban sugar, low prices, combined with the persistent nematode parasite (which was not new but had always been a problem with sugar beets, here and throughout the nation) , made it more efficient for the Clark family, the owners of the Sugar Factory, and the area’s largest farm (the 8,000 acre Montana Ranch) to close the factory and ship their still very substantial sugar beet crop to the Holly Company’s Beet factory in Dyer (now Santa Ana), near Dyer and Edinger Road.  Another factor to take into consideration was the personal commitment on the part of the owners.  The original owners, W.A. and J.Ross Clark (who was the actual boss of the operation), had passed on in 1925 and 1927, respectively.  Ross Clark’s son, Walter had died when the Titanic went down, and his son-in-law Henry C. Lee, had a title but did not seem to be very involved with the factory.  Ross Clark’s nephew, Clark Bonner,  assumed control of the Montana Land Company.  Bonner, a very successful businessman in Los Angeles, immediately recognized that the vast fields represented great potential profit and he made plans to develop the Montana Ranch as an industrial park.  <ref>Originally Bonner tried to market the area as an industrial park, and he tried to lure auto plants and aircraft plants, but the stock market crash put an end to these plans.  A few years later the LA Times, Aug. 28, 1932 announced “Huge New Tract Launched; 9,000 Acre development Near Los Alamitos Being Built Around Golf Course Project.” This would end up being Lakewood Country Club.</ref>e The Depression threw a wrench in these plan.  Bonner seemed to have very little connection to the sugar beet factory.  Although they didn’t operate the Alamitos factory, the Clarks still managed it through Gus Strotdhoff, a long-time Clark employee who served simultaneously as the Supervisor of the Los Alamitos Sugar Company.

In 1926, after the owners determined to ship their sugar to the Holly factory, the Los Alamitos Sugar Company also sold their processing equipment.  Henry Lucas, who had been with the company from the beginning, converted the scrap metal for sale and shipped it across the Pacific.  In 1932 the big brick factory was rented out by Dr. William J. Ross, a Santa Monica veterinarian who had started his own line of canned dog and cat food.<ref>LA Times, July 27, 1932; “Dog Food Company Takes Sugar Plant.”  pg 4, col. 6</ref>

The Ross Dog and Cat Food Company began operations in 1924.  Originally, he bought most of his meat product from Southwestern Indian tribes in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Mexico, paying approximately two cents a pound for the meat from wild mustangs.    Between 1924 and 1939, Ross correspondence indicates they used 180,000 pounds of horse meat in their product.  In addition to the southwestern Indian tribes, Ross also contracted with others to round up herds of wild mustangs on Federal property, and them ship them to the Los Alamitos plant where they were destroyed for dog and cat food.  One writer decribed the “typical sales horse” as decrepit, bony, a ha;f-starved creature, barely equal to the long trek from the sales corral to railroad shipping points.’ Literally hundreds died en route, unable to make the slow drive across the barren, water-poor range.’ [ref]Walter D. Wyman, Wild Horse of the West, 1963, p203.;  Richard Symanski, Wild horses and sacred cows. 1985, p.77
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Under the management of Ross’ nephew, Glenn Ross, the company leased a plant near Norwalk, but to meet its “steadily increasing demand”, it needed a larger factory, hence the 1932 move to Los Alamitos.  In addition to the horsemeat, the company  also bought other somewhat exotic meats.  In Octrober 1932, the Times reported that the factory was buying cheaper cuts of whale meat killed by the whaler Willamette, a converted lumber ship.  <ref> LA Times, Oct. 26, 1932, “How About a Nice Whale Roast: Newport Beach Excited Over It’s Latest Industry;” pg 8.</ref>

Six months after that, the company’s operations were hampered by the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake which damaged the the main building badly.  Nonetheless, the company continued its operations and appeared to be thriving.

Ross advertised his food consistently in the LA Times.

There is just one pet food you can buy that does not contain sticky, starchy gummy rice or barley, and that is Dr. Ross’ Dog and Cat Food.[ref] LA Times, Sunday newspapers, June 1930 through August 1931. [/ref]

Ross’ operations were not accepted willingly by his neighbors.  In July 1932, Fred H. Bixby, owner of the Bixby Ranch Company, and the largest manager of property in the area,  filed a complaint with the Orange County Board of Supervisors, protesting Ross’ plan to take over the Los Alamitos Sugar Factory.  Bixby was a man of influence.  In addition to his Alamitos properties he owned other large chunks of land in Orange County including some near the community of Olive, and his sister owned a large chunk of Santa Ana Canyon.  He was also many times President of the National Cattlemen’s Association, and had been considered as secretary of the Interior during the Coolidge administration.

But things got worse for Ross, especially after two young men packed 17 horses into a single trailer and made the trip across the Mojave Desert in the hot summer July sun. The disaster results were reported in the July 18, 1933 Times.

July 19, 1933, LA Times

Two Sentenced, Another Sought in Horse Deathjs

SEAL BEACH, July 18 — State humans authorities are looking for a third person in the asserted death of twelve horses and two men are lodged in the Orange County Jail after pleading guilty to a charge of excessive cruelty to animals.

When Earl W. Elwinger and James D. Anderson, each 22 years of age, were brought into court here yesterday afternoon, it was revealed that out of seventeen horses brought in one small truck from Kingman, Arizona, twelve had died or been trampled to death as the starved and thirsty animals stampeded in their small quarters.  All but five animals died while en route across the hot desert.

When the cargo of suffering animals and carcasses arrived at the Dr. Ross Dog and Food Cat Factory the drivers were arrested by Humane Officers G.W. Hammond, J.F. Hammond and R.D. Paul.

They were brought into Justice Court here and Judge Smith sentenced them to pay a fine of $250 each or go to jail for a period not to exceed ninety days.

Locals kept the pressure on.  On July 1, 1934, the LA Times reported that New Charges of cruelty had been brought against the Rosses.[ref]LA Times, July 1, 1934.  Horse Cruelty Charges Cause New Complaint.  SANTA ANA, June 30—Dist. Attorney Kaufmann’s office has issued  a complaint charging W.J. Ross and Glenn Ross, who operate as dog food plant near Los Alamitos, with cruelty to animals. The issuance of the complaint followed the receipt of a shipment of about 950 horses from Arizona and New Mexico, a number of which were dead upon arrival, investigators declared.

In the past, the largest shipments have numbered about 150 horses and the size of the present shipments is said to have been much larger than has ever been cared for.

The complaint, signed by F.J. Le, of 3612 Eleventh Avenue, Los Angeles, accuses the defendants of failure to provide proper food, drink, shelter and protection from the weather for the animals. .

A number of previous complaints, chiefly against drivers of trucks bringing the animals to the Ross plant, have resulted in two pleas of guilty, one acquittal, one dismissal, and a jury disagreement. [/ref]

The case went to trial on July 18.  On July 18, 1934

Trial of Pair Charged With Cruelty Begun

The jury trial charging Dr. W.J. Ross, head of the Dr. Ross Dog and Cat Food factory in Los Alamitos, and his nephew Glenn Ross, with cruelty to animals opened today in justice court.  Judge Fred J. Smith presided.  The courtroom was packed.

Four witnesses testified that the Rosses kept between 400 and 500 horses in a corral.  Assertions were made that conditions as regards the feeding and the treatment of the animals were bad.  Other witnesses told of a lack of water.

Fred J. [sic] Bixby and humane officer F.J. Lee brought the charges.

The next day Ross’ attorneys presented evidence that the factory owners were unaware of some of the trucking conditions., that many of the horses were already being treated inhumanely in Arizona by native tribes, that he had set up a 400-acre pen for the horses within a day of their arrival.

Within a month the charges were dismissed as the jury was unable to reach a verdict, but were said to be leaning 8-4 for acquittal.

Ross fought the charges with a publicity campaign.  The company entered a float in the Rose Parade. [ref] LA Times, Jan. 3, 1933.  pA6.  Floats Merge Blooms in Art.  “In the commercial class, Dr. W.J. Ross ‘s Dog and Cat Foof Company presented a floral car with a six-foot can of the company’s product adorinng the rear.  The can was in red berries with white stock and green fern.  The car carried a radio brodcasting apparatus and provided music throughout the parade.” [/ref]

They ran numerous ads, not only for their pet food.  WJ ROSS Co., of Los Alamitos, Cal. is listed as an advertiser of soap.  Soap was a side product of the horses slaughtered by the Ross factory.

Sometimes the good intentions didn’t work out as planned.  For a 1938 Junior Chamber of Commerce pageant, “A Salute to the States,” Ross donated an old swayback mare.  The horse drew great attention for the six day pageant and there were cries to save him from being returned to the Ross’ boneyard.  But the food and success proved too much for Nellie who died the morning after the pageant.[ref]LA Times, Aug. 12, 1938, pA18. “Doomed Horse in Pageant Dies.”[/ref]

With available wild horse meat becoming scarcer, Ross turned to marine animals for sources of meat.  Ross made a request to hunt sea lions off the California coast, but was denied.  In 1936 the State had placed firm restrictions against the killing or capture of sea lions, as well as most other marine mammals, along its coast.

While Mexico had passed similar laws concerning the critically endangered elephant seal in its waters, that government was not as stringent when it came to conservancy issues regarding sea lions, and the the Ross Company found ways around the poor protection afforded these animals in Mexico during 1937.

Ross commissioned three ships to hunt the Mexican waters — one was the Romancia, one-time yacht for the former King of Spain.  One of the ships was set up as a floating cannery, and they operated out of San Pedro.  Ross and these ships became a target for conservationists because of their whale calf hunting and vehement opposition to California’s protection of marine mammals.  Even after the company fell into receivership, conservationists with the San Diego Museum of Natural History, led by ___ Abbott,  found that while the Ross Company was not directly operating in Mexican waters, fishing companies and Mexican contractors had begun to do the hunting instead.

There were reports that at times during this period up to 180 sea lions were taken a day. The Ross Company was also said to be looking into whaling again, to supplement sea lion meat in their dog food, after having lost their concession in California.  Ross actions drew the attention of the U.S. Government.  In March 1938, Sumner Welles, then the Assistant Secretary of State, brought up the sea lion issue with the Mexican ambassador in Washington, D.C.

Between May and August of 1938, while the Ross Company’s own Mexican concession had been revoked, it continued its operations in Mexico in a roundabout fashion and kept a presence in Mexico City to win that concession back.  C. E. Matlock, the “contact man” for the Company, went to Mexico City to personally lobby the Mexican government on Ross’ behalf. Conservations were very aware that the amount of resources the Ross Company was willing to devote to this battle far outweighed their own.

Soon the American Society of Mammalogists’ (ASM)  weighed in on the matter, and drew up a resolution support San Diego Museum’s Clinton G. Abbott’s opposition to Ross’s hunting of sea lions.

In September 1938, Abbott and W. J. Ross himself, president of the Ross Company, met face to face for the first time. Telling Abbott that he saw him as the “chief obstacle” in regaining his Mexican concession, Ross soon left for Mexico to plead his case personally. Much to the chagrin of Abbott and the Society, Ross was able to work out a deal with the Mexican authorities and resumed hunting sea lions in October.

On November 19, 1938, the LA Times carried the following article under the small heading, “Harbor Notes”:

A three ship expedition for Central American Sea Lions , wild cattle and sheep for Dr. Ross dog and cat food factory at Long Beach will get under way today when the auxiliary schooner Lotti  heads for Turtle Bay and p0ints south.  She will be joined at Turtle Bay by the factory ship F.S. Loop while the Romancia, one time yacht of the King of Spain, will depart here next week.  The vessels may cruise south as far as Costa Rica [ref] LA Times, Nov. 19, 1938, p11.[/ref]

 

Four months later, Abbott and other conservationists learned about the new concession through newspaper clippings, and initiated a new letter writing campaign to Mexican officials

Making matters worse, In April of 1939, California commercial fishermen took a major step to remove protection of the California sea lion along the coast. Complaining about the sea lion’s supposed negative effect on the fishing industry, they introduced a new bill, A.B. 1365, to remove restrictions on killing the animals.  This bill was defeated.

Over the next few months, Abbott, upset by an extension of Ross license to hunt sea lions, agreed to write an article for Bird-Lore. Some re-writing and postponements to minimize required all mention of the Ross Company and its “ugly disposition” to be removed while Abbott shortened the length to please the Museum and Society’s officers.  But the article finally ran in October 1939 issue of Bird-Lore.

September and October 1939
The response to the article, “Sea Lion Slaughter,” was positive. It was made the lead article in the issue, with the Audubon Society’s Executive Director, John Baker, claiming that the article would do “quite a bit of good” while recalling a similar effort in Maine to save the harbor seal. J. R. Pemberton, governor of the Cooper Ornithological Club and Abbott’s confidant in the sea lion slaughter campaign, congratulated Abbott on the “fine style” of the article.

While Abbott, stinging from the legal necessity to omit the Ross Company’s name, called the article “somewhat superficial and hastily written,” it had obviously influenced a good number of people.

November and December 1939
The Bird-Lore article was also reprinted several times. Most intriguing of these reprints was the Spanish language version published in Mexico, after Abbott’s secretary’s father translated it for the Mexican press. With this, Abbott’s word had reached the popular front, fulfilling the campaign’s early aim to arouse international sentiment against the killings.

The article also proved to be Abbott’s last major effort in the sea lion conservancy campaign. Fearing legal retribution against the Museum and himself, Abbott felt it best to step aside and allow other groups with more “powerful leverage” to engage in the fight against the Ross Company.

As another postscript, the Ross Company was left reeling by Abbott and other conservancy efforts to stop their hunting. Already in receivership in 1937 after their whaling rights were revoked, Abbott’s campaign put a further dent into their profits. By 1944, they declared bankruptcy.

For all his legal problems, Ross seemed unfazed.  The factory sponsored a baseball team that played in the Southern California Semi-Pro Baseball league.  Ross was also a member of the ceremonial Long Beach Mounted Patrol, which rode horses at events like the Rose Parade.  Longtime Los Alamitos resident remembered Ross living in the old factory General Managers quarters at Sausalito and Reagan.

“He was quite a kidder.  Long’s dad operated one of the grocery stores in town.  “Ross would come into the store and wanted us to grind up a great cut of meat.  Ross would put it in one of his cans and serve it to guests.” [ref] interview with Chuck Long, History of Los Alamitos television show.  1983.[/ref]

About this same time Ross was in another legal battle, this time over usage of the brand name “Nippy” — the name of the dog on Ross canned food items.  Their opponent was the Kraft Corporation, and its subsidiary, the Pabst-Etts Corporation, which claimed Ross was infringing on one of their products, Pabst-Ett cheese, which called its best-selling item Nippy Cheese.  [ref]Pabst-Ett cheese had been developed by the Pabst Brewing Company, which was forced by Prohibition to change course to keep afloat. In 1923 Pabst converted its horse stables and farm west of Milwaukee to produce milk and cheese, storing and aging the cheese in the brewery’s former ice cellars.  Backed by their formidable marketing and sales forces, Pabst’s cheese business was quite successful and  Pabst-ett, a processed whey cheese similar to Velveeta was the most popular of their products.  Pabst-ett called their best selling cheese Nippy cheese.  Kraft-Phenix Cheese Company sued Pabst for patent infringement over their process; Kraft won the case in 1927 and entered into a royalty-free licensing agreement to produce Pabst-ett cheese. With end of prohibition in 1933 Pabst returned to the brewing business, and sold off their cheese business operations to Kraft, which continued to produce Pabst-ett into the 1940s. [/ref]

In 1938, Ross, doing business as Los Alamitos Packing Company, filed with the patent office for the registration of its mark “Nippy” for use on canned dog and cat food.   Pabst-Ett and Kraft filed opposition based on prior use of the term for its line of cheese products.  The issue dragged through the courts for a couple years.

Throughout its troubles the Ross factory was still one of the leading employers in Los Alamitos.  One employee was Ben DeLeon, who was a grain mixer at the plant, until he was called into the army in 1942.  [ref. LA Times, http://articles.latimes.com/1989-12-07/local/me-453_1_pearl-harbor[/ref].

One of the last mentions in the newspapers regarding the Ross factory was on March 6, 1942, when the company sought assistance from the Orange County sheriff after burglars stole “six recapped truck tires” and a “quantity of machinery from a tool shed.”[ref] LA Times, Mar. 9, 1942, p.7.  “Six Tires Stolen From Manufacturer.”[/ref]

The theft of recapped tires may have been a sign of the wartime rubber shortage.  With the start of World War II, many products became scarce for private industry as their use for military got priority.  Such was apparently the case for Ross and tin.   This challenge, combined with the legal attacks by environmentalists and creditors, finally proved too much for Ross.   In In March 1943, the company threw in the towel, and filed bankruptcy.  His food processing equipment and the brand names “Dr. Ross Dog and Cat Food” and ” Skippy” were sold at auction to Dallas B. Lewis of Tennessee.[ref] Winfield Scott Downs, Encyclopedia of American biography: New series: Volume 37, p.96, 1998[/ref]
Lewis who would take the name of Dr. Ross to bigger and better heights.  It was under Lewis that the slogan “Dr. Ross dogfood is dog-gone good” became well-known as the sponsor of many radio shows and even television shows in the early days of that medium. [ref] Right-wingers get millions from DB Lewis will Even in life, Dallas B. Lewis, the manufacturer of Dr. Ross’s pet foods, supported the far-right through advertising and direct contributions; but in death he supported the movement even more.  His company spent millions buying advertisements which advised readers which candidates voted for the American way of life .  An advertisement on Election Day 1962 was challenged by the US Government as breaking the 1907 laws against Electioneering on Election Day.

Dallas B. Lewis, 62, president of Lewis Food Co., Los Angeles, manufacturer of Dr. Ross line of dog and cat foods, died April 25, 1966 in Los Angeles hospital following an apparent heart attack. [/ref]

But by this time, the Dr. Ross operations were long gone from Los Alamitos – all the equipment had been moved to Lewis’ new plant in Vernon, just south of downtown Los Angeles.

 


SOURCES:

Much of the information on the Dr. Ross Company and the killing of ea lions and sea elephants comes from an article written for the San Diego Museum of Natural History.  They cite that “The majority of the reference material for this article is drawn from Box 186 in the San Diego Natural History Museum’s research library’s archives. ”

This box includes correspondence from Clinton G. Abbott, the Californian and Mexican governments, and Abbott’s contacts, numerous newspaper clippings from the time concerning the issue of “Sea Lion Slaughter,” as well as rough drafts of the resulting article.

Crawford, Charles F. 1938. “Food For Canines: Ross Vessels Kill Sea Mammals, Donkeys, Sheep for Dogs.” Long Beach Press-Telegram, Nov. 21.

San Diego Sun. 1937. “Is That You, Alfonso? Well, Dewey’s Gone to the Dogs With Your Yacht.” Dec. 16, Morning Edition.

San Diego Sun. 1937. “‘Killer’ Ship Obtains Seal Meat For Pets.” Dec. 17.

Wyman, Walker D, 1963; , Wild Horse of the West, p. 205-207; University of Nebraska Press

One thought on “1926-1943 – After the Sugar – The Los Alamitos Sugar Factory and Dr. Ross”
  1. […] I should note that after the decline of the sugar beet industry, and before the mid-20th century advancements, we were known as the capital of a growing dog food empire. Well, with the discovery that horse meat was the primary ingredient of the local product, that episode too, was relegated to an anecdote in the local history archives. […]

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