Gallery view – photograph by Brian Wallace.
THE EGG HOUSE: Female Egg Packers
The introduction of the Egg House paralleled the passage of the Equal Opportunity Act of 1972, which compelled canners to hire more women workers. Female cannery workers filled needed positions in the Egg House, assembling wooden boxes in the preseason and packing them with layered roe during the salmon season.
The Egg House Technicians
Japanese companies sent trained technicians to oversee production in the Egg House.
Once the Iron Butchering Machines removes the salmon heads, tails, and fins, a worker pulls two skeins of salmon roe. Conveyor belts from the Fish House carried recently removed roe to the Egg House. Technicians washed the eggs, placed them in large vats, and soaked them in a brine solution.
Skilled technicians removed and drained the roe in baskets. After draining, trained eyes grade the roe. The salmon eggs are gently deposited onto a conveyor belt and sorted by color, texture, and size. Reserved as “tops” are the highest grades, enticing consumers with a bright, deep orange-red color.
Finally, a technician sprinkles the filled box with fine, dry salt and finalizes the process with a thorough inspection. A lid is placed over the box, which is then turned upside down and weighed. The stamped roe boxes are cooled for a set period and prepared for shipment to Japan.
In later years, plastic replaced wooden baskets and boxes.
Egg scale, late 20th century
Egg house workers weighed each packed egg box to ensure that it met specifications.
Wooden egg box assembly parts
During preseason, Egg House workers assemble wooden roe boxes. Thousands of wooden boxes were stamped, filled, and shipped to Japan. By the 1990s, plastic boxes replaced wooden boxes.