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Dossier: Kuner, Brighton's Pickle Making Legacy

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Sleuthing Brighton Colorado, with a full Investigative Report by the Brighton History Detective® (aka Robin Kring)

Case Number: 00015, Identify Mural Subject

Mural Location: “Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza” by Hans Joseph Geist

Subject Identified: The Kuner Pickle Factory, Rocky Mountain Canned-Vegetable Leader

KUNER PICKLE CO. (1895-1984), Headquarters and Rocky Mountain Canned-Vegetable Leader (image c. 1917), The Kuner name would stand in Brighton as a steadfast employer for 89 years. Maximillian “Max” Kuner (1824 -1913) first moved a Kuner pickle and sauerkraut salting station from Greeley to Brighton in 1895 (near the location where the former-GWS sugar silos are today). He then constructed an additional canning factory in 1907. A sauerkraut brining station was added in 1908, to the west of the salting station (where the women workers wore Dutch-style wooden shoes to protect them from the caustic solutions). After the original pickle plant burned in 1909, Max built another one in 1910. In 1917, the Kuner Pickle Co., transferred its headquarters to Brighton, building a large factory complex at Kuner Rd. and Denver St. and ceasing operations in Denver.

The complex consisted of buildings for canning vegetables, bottling pickles, a large warehouse, and a small cottage office. This ensured the canning of the freshest produce with close proximity to small truck-farm harvests that supplied cabbage, celery, and cucumbers. The company also built 15 side-by-side company houses for their employees, that became known as “Kuner Row.” The residences were located on the east side of the 200 block of 4th Ave. (between Longs Peak and Brighton Streets).

Max and His Straight-Goods & Square-Deal “K”

Although Max died in 1913, the family-owned business continued his attention to quality and his “Straight Goods and a Square Deal” motto (by which he lived), in the personification of the large “K” product brand. Max Kuner was fondly remembered by the employees who worked with him, and whom he later transferred to Brighton. They remembered him as a handsome and charming man, who greeted them every day, wearing a white vest with a fresh flower in his button-hole. A Brighton Blade “100th Year” article recalled the whole company celebrating Max’s birthday every December 4, preparing days before in anticipation. The party always began at noon with a Dutch lunch of sauerkraut and sausages, beer, cake, and ice cream. An orchestra was brought in to play, and oftentimes Max would sing a solo for the group.

By 1924, the company would employ 300 men and women during their 3-month campaign, during which they turned out 60,000 bushels of pickles and 150,000 cases of canned goods.

Kuner’s Early Beginnings

The Kuner Pickle Company, first established in Denver in 1871, became the Rocky Mountain’s leading canned vegetable company was the American success story of two brothers from Bavaria, Max and John Kuner, and John’s son Randolph. John C. Kuner, began a “kitchen cannery” in his home, producing pickles, chow-chow (a type of pickled relish, often made with tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions), and more items to help relieve the monotony of meat, potatoes, gravy, and breads. The business prospered and, in 1872, John purchases a building, on the northwest corner of 10th St. and Lawrence St., and established J. C. Kuner and Son, with his son Randolph.

John asked his brother Max to join him in 1883. Max, a skilled watchmaker, had also briefly tried his hand in the pickle business, Kuner’s Pickles, in St. Louis, Missouri, after his watch business and home were destroyed in Tennessee during the 1863 Battle of Vicksburg. In 1884, John’s pickle business incorporated with Max & (John’s son) Randolf, as the Kuner Pickle Company. By 1885, the company was successfully selling a long line of products. These included: vinegar, cider, pickles, sauerkraut, mustard, horseradish, minced meat, white wax beans, tomatoes, ketchup, table sauce, and mixed chow-chow relish. The wide variety went on to include pork & beans, peanut butter, Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, pepper sauce, spaghetti, and salad dressing. However, John would rely increasingly on Max, after John’s wife and son died in 1886 and 1887. In 1892, John would sell his remaining interest in Kuner to Max.

The company would win bronze medals for quality at the 1893 World’s Fair. The company was also a boost to Adams and Weld County growers, who sold more than one million pounds of tomatoes to the company that same year. By 1902, the Kuner Pickle Company had become the fourth largest pickle company in the nation and expanded to over 14 city lots, at 22nd and Blake St. That same year, the company would move its sauerkraut plant to Brighton. Max remained active in the company, until he died in 1913. The company remained in the family, when Max’s grandson, Karl Kuner Mayer took over as president. Max, having no sons and his four daughters pursuing more traditional lifestyles of the era, had brought his grandson into business in 1910. Karl was responsible for implementing his grandfather’s plan to transfer all of the company’s Denver production to Brighton. Karl later hired his brother, Emile Mayer and placed him in charge of production.

End of the Journey

The company later purchased the Empson Packing Co. and combined to form Kuner-Empson Co. After the merger, the company had plants in Brighton, Fort Lupton, Greeley, Longmont, and Loveland, plus pea-viner stations throughout Colorado. The company would celebrate its 100th year of production in 1964, offering a wide variety of beans, vegetables, and fruits. Brighton operations saw transitions into Kuner-Empson Co. and Stokely-Van Camp Co., before ceasing in 1984. However, the Kuner brand is still a favorite on today’s grocery store shelves, distributed nationwide by Faribault Foods, Inc.

The factory was demolished in 1987, as were most of the associated outbuildings. The Kuner-Empson water tower and office building, as well as a warehouse a short distance away, still remain as re-purposed facilities under new ownership.

©2023 Robin Kring, including excerpts from A Postcard History of Brighton

Discover More About the Artist and the Detective

Learn more about the Artist, Hans Joseph Geist, behind the Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural, in the Brighton History Detective® dossier, The Case of the New Mural and its Artist (Hans Joseph Geist). See more of Hans art at: Art by Hans Geist on Facebook.

Find more Investigative Case Reports, by Brighton History Detective®, each revealing the identity of one of the 20 intriguing Brighton characters and places, painted on the mural. Investigate the sleuthing and writing stories of yesteryear, mystery, and intrigue on the Clear Creek Publishing Authors Blog site, including: New Fiction, Victoriana, Event Planning Extraordinaire, Colorado History, and Cemetery Chats.

The Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural is located on the southwest corner of Main St. and Bridge St., in Brighton, Colorado. The mural is a project of the Brighton Cultural Arts Commission, whose mission is to increase arts and culture awareness and promote cultural and scientific opportunities in our community. It has been made possible with funding from the SCFD and Brighton Lodging Tax Grants.

®Brighton History Detective is a registered trademark of Clear Creek Publishing.

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