Anyone familiar with the maritime history of greater Portland may have heard of the Brawn family from Cushing’s Point. Let’s take a deeper look at the life of George Albert “Bert” Brawn.

George “Bert” Brawn with his wife, Lizzie, on the left, with Frank S. Willard and his wife, Annie. Bert Brawn and Frank Willard started the Brawn and Willard Company in 1914. They built and operated their sardine canning factory on Deake’s Wharf in Portland. South Portland Historical Society photo

Bert Brawn was born in Lubec in 1860, the son of John and Jane Brawn. Although his father was a sparmaker, given the time and place where Bert grew up, he followed a different path. We mentioned previously how the U.S. sardine canning industry had essentially been born in Eastport in 1876 when Julius Wolff established the first successful sardine cannery there. Bert was about 16 years old at that time. To put him in perspective with others in the sardine industry, Bert was just three years older than Robert J. “Bob” Peacock who was born in 1863 and founded the R.J. Peacock Canning Company. The founder of the E.W. Brown Company, Emilius Brown, was born in 1842.

According to Bert Brawn’s great-grandson, Gary Hooper, Bert started his own canning business in Lubec in 1881, with the support of a partner, Julius Wolff. His canning factory packed its first can of sardines on April 24, 1881.

This appears to have been a business that he opened in partnership with E.W. Brown. In an article in the Portland Daily Press on March 8, 1882, the five-year-old sardine canning industry had grown dramatically. There were 18 canneries in Eastport, four in Lubec, and six others in various locations down the Maine coast.

One of those factories in Lubec in 1882 was known as Brown & Brawn and it, like many of the small outfits, sold its product primarily to the larger company known as Wolff & Reessing, which would in turn ship product down to the Boston and New York markets.

This type of collaboration in the sardine industry was fairly common, whether through joint ownership, financial backing, cooperative or other agreement. In 1901, Bert Brawn was the superintendent of the E.W. Brown & Company factory in Lubec, but in 1902, the company was referring to itself as the E.W. Brown plant of the Sea Coast Packing Company, one of three Sea Coast plants in Lubec at that time.


In the 1920s, 41 packing plants consolidated their operations into a new company, Maine Co-operative Sardine Company. In 1927, they were determined to be in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and were forced to disband.

The Brawn homes at Cushing’s Point. From left, the Bert and Lizze Brawn home at 25 Front St., the Ralph Brawn home, the Norman and Nettie (Brawn) Hooper home, and the Guy and Alta Brawn home. South Portland Historical Society photo

Although Bert Brawn had reportedly initially started his own company in Lubec in 1881, for many of his years he was employed by the E.W. Brown Company – first in Lubec, then moving with the company to Port Clyde in 1904 when they built a new factory there, then moving to South Portland when the company leased the wharf and buildings that had been previously used by the Lord Brothers Fish & Salt company in Ferry Village.

Without business records, we have no way of knowing if he was simply an employee of E.W. Brown or if he had any ownership interest in the company.

What we do know is that George “Bert” Brawn, his sons, Ralph and Guy, and his son-in-law, Norman Hooper, were all active in the E.W. Brown packing plant in Ferry Village from 1910 until at least 1913.

When the Brawn family first moved to South Portland, they leased the home at 12 Front St., on the corner of Madison Street (the home is now referred to as the Cushing’s Point House, which has since become home to the South Portland Historical Society and was moved into Bug Light Park). Three of the families lived in that home at 12 Front St. at first (Bert and Lizzie Brawn, Ralph Brawn, and Norman and Nettie Hooper).

In 1915, Bert and Lizzie purchased the home at 25 Front St. from David Moulton, as well as another large tract of land behind that home, all the way to the water. They subdivided that land into three lots and sold them to their children, Ralph, Nettie and Guy, in 1915 and 1916. Three additional homes were then built next to 25 Front St., extending out on the tip of the point – all three houses had “Cushing’s Point” addresses and they accessed Front Street via a right of way over the 25 Front St. property.


All four of the homes were taken by eminent domain for the shipyard during World War II. Two of the homes were moved and still exist today in South Portland – one on Bay View Avenue and the other on South Richland Street.

Bert and Lizzie Brawn portrait. South Portland Historical Society photo

The Brawn family had a parting of the ways with the E.W. Brown Company by 1914. In news articles from April 1914, Bert is now referred to as having been “formerly” with the E.W. Brown Company. At that time, he had secured a location next to the ferry landing in Ferry Village where he was about to supervise the construction of a new, competing sardine factory. This appears to be the factory that was soon to be occupied by Portland Products Company. News articles from 1915 indicate that the Portland Products factory had just been completed and was in operation.

We are still researching to determine if Bert Brawn was involved in that construction or not.

Also in 1914, Bert Brawn formed a partnership with Frank S. Willard. Their new company was called the Brawn & Willard Company. They built their own sardine canning plant on Deake’s Wharf in Portland which they operated as a partnership for over a decade. Frank S. Willard was also from South Portland; he was the head of the F.S. Willard Company (lobsters) at the time, and later became president of the Willard-Daggett Company.

In 1925, the partnership of Brawn & Willard was dissolved and the Brawn family continued the sardine canning business on Deake’s Wharf on their own, now known as the Brawn Company. The Brawn Co. incorporated on April 27, 1925, with $50,000 capital.

In this circa 1915 photo, the Cushing’s Point House at 12 Front St., corner of Madison Street, can be seen at the far left. The Brawn family lived in that house until 1915 when they purchased the home at 25 Front St., shown at right. Courtesy photo/David Moulton

Bert and Lizzie Brawn’s son, Ralph, had an accounting degree and handled the financial end of the business. Their daughter, Nettie, was the forewoman who was in charge of the packers, and her husband, Norman Hooper, was the plant superintendent and in charge of the machinery.


Bert and Lizzie’s son, Guy, was also a machinist and an entrepreneur. After deciding that American Can was charging them too much for their sardine cans, Guy determined that they could make the cans themselves for a much better price. They opened Cushing’s Manufacturing Co. in 1935, also on Deake’s Wharf, and would then buy tin plate and punch out their own cans.

The Brawn Company stayed in business until the early 1950s.

MEMBERSHIP DRIVE 2022: The South Portland Historical Society researches and documents local history. If you enjoy reading about South Portland history, please lend your support. A one-year family membership is only $25 and supports our mission of preserving local history. Donations can be made through our Online Museum website at, or if you’d prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to South Portland Historical Society and mail to us at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106. Thank you. If you need to contact the society, we can be reached by email at or by phone at 207-767-7299.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at

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