In previous columns, we’ve discussed a number of sardine canneries including two from Portland with ties to South Portland – the Brawn Company on Deake’s Wharf, owned by the Brawn family of Cushing’s Point, and the R.J. Peacock Company on Brown’s Wharf, run by John Toft who also owned a home at Cushing’s Point.

We’ve also looked at the E.W. Brown sardine cannery on the Ferry Village waterfront in South Portland. Now, let’s take a look at the other sardine factory in South Portland, first known as Portland Products and later run by Seaboard Packing.

Portland Products Company opened a new sardine cannery on South Portland’s Ferry Village waterfront in 1915. South Portland Historical Society photo

Portland Products Company first began operation in 1915 in South Portland on the waterfront in Ferry Village. They first completed installation of a wharf in the spring of 1915 on land leased from the William Spear Company; the large, two-story factory building was then constructed on the wharf that summer. This was in the area next to the ferry landing (in the vicinity of where Saltwater Grille is today). By November, 1915, the factory was in operation.

In its early years, the company operated as a sardine canning factory. Its two well-known brands were “Fisher Queen” sardines packed in pure olive oil and “Cape Elizabeth” sardines packed in cottonseed oil. Like other sardine canneries, there were men employed in the operation (Christian Retter served as the foreman for many years), but the actual packing of the sardines was performed by women in the neighborhood who would show up to work when the alarm rang out to alert them that a herring boat was arriving.

Portrait of Roger W. Nichols, president of Portland Products Company. South Portland Historical Society photo

Portland Products had at least one company-owned herring boat: the Cora H, built in 1914 in Eastport, Maine.

Portland Products suffered a devastating fire in June of 1925. The fire started just before midnight and while responders were eventually able to extinguish the flames and save surrounding buildings, the company estimated the loss to be $15,000 (the equivalent of about $242,000 in today’s dollars). In spite of that, the company was able to repair the damage and continue in operation.


According to an article about the company in the Portland Press Herald in 1926, Portland Products had started out specializing in “fine sardines … but the overhead was high and with a view of cutting this down a bit, the manufacture of oven baked beans was started in 1924. The crew of men at the factory was kept busy only about half the year by the sardine work and the bean business was planned to furnish them year round employment. The beans became popular almost immediately when put on the market and soon it became necessary to keep the oven running day and night.”

A 1927 advertisement for beans and brown bread, made and sold by Portland Products in Ferry Village. South Portland Historical Society image

The beans were sold under the “Saturday Night Oven Baked Beans” label. As the demand for its baked beans grew, the company also began selling canned brown bread. In 1926, pickles were added to the growing product line when Portland Products acquired the factory and business of Maine Pickling Company in Portland.

The primary person behind Portland Products was its president and general manager Roger Nichols. The son of a farmer, Nichols was born in 1878 in Epping, New Hampshire. After graduating from Bates College in 1903, he moved first to Utica, New York, then to Brooklyn, where he worked for the YMCA as a financial secretary. He married Martha Chase in 1904 and they had six children. Roger and Martha moved their family to South Portland when he became the president and general manager of Portland Products. Nichols was a respected member of the business community and was elected president of the South Portland Chamber of Commerce in the 1920s.

In this 1929 advertisement, Portland Products Company is now selling sardines, beans, brown bread and pickles. South Portland Historical Society image

In the first few years of the company, the treasurer was Roger Nichols’ father-in-law, the Rev. Edward Chase. Chase was born in Baltimore, in 1836, and moved to Portland, with his family. Throughout his life, he was a Congregational minister, ordained in Portland in 1863. He served churches in Bedford, Massachusetts, and in Biddeford, Hallowell and Kennebunk. Edward Chase’s wife Sarah died in 1907 and, at the time of his death in June, 1918, he was living at 40 Dyer St. in Ferry Village with Roger and Martha.

Portland Products Company remained in business through the early 1930s. The successor company was Seaboard Packing. We’ll take a look at that company next week.

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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