Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cadillac, Kinney and Fish Sticks 
On the Cadillac Mountain summit in Acadia National Park there is a kiosk at the start of the North Ridge Trail. On it is a small plaque which states simply: "This trail head sign was donated in honor of E. Robert Kinney by his children on the occasion of his 80th birthday."*1

Kinney plaque
Plaque location on Cadillac summit

E. (Earl) Robert Kinney was born in Burnham, ME on April 12, 1917 to Harry E. and Ethel V. Kinney and grew up in nearby Pittsfield.  He earned a scholarship to Bates College in Lewiston, ME and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1939 with a major in education and a minor in economics.  He went on to attend Harvard University, but left for Bar Harbor, ME to pursue an intriguing interest.

E. Robert Kinney*

An entrepreneur in spirit, he noticed that lobstermen were tossing away the crabs they caught in their traps and saw an opportunity. With a $300 loan from a Bangor, ME bank he began buying the crabs for a penny apiece and canning the crab meat. He conducted his canning business in Bangor, where he established the North Atlantic Packing Company. In 1943 he relocated the company to West Street in Bar Harbor in the Nickerson, Spratt and Greeley Grain Company building he had purchased. There he employed 18 women to can mussels. By 1945 the company's products had expanded to clams, flaked cod and haddock, chowder mix, blueberry jam and sweet orange marmalade. That year the company received a contract from the U.S. Army for 1.5 million pounds of canned orange marmalade. It completed the contract in less than five months by producing 25 tons daily, using 75 employees in two shifts to process navel oranges shipped from California. The marmalade was delivered in 8-lb. camouflaged tins.*2  Fire destroyed the three-storey building in 1950, but Kinney rebuilt. The company ultimately employed 300 and grossed $2 million annually.

In 1953, after selling the business, he joined the Gorton's of Gloucester seafood company and became its president in 1958. While at Gorton's he extended its seafood line into frozen fish sticks, which became a very popular meal in American homes.  Here's a 1982 Gorton's fish sticks commercial:

In 1968 General Mills Inc. bought Gorton's and brought Kinney on board at its headquarters in Minneapolis, MN. In 1973 he became the company's president and four years later its CEO. He retired in 1982.

Kinney became a resident of downtown Bar Harbor in the 1940s about the time he started the North Atlantic Packing Co. there. Later he resided in Hulls Cove, a Bar Harbor village.

A keen businessman, Kinney was also a philanthropist and corporate advisor. In 1973 he conveyed to the College of the Atlantic the Bar Harbor land and buildings it had occupied since its founding four years earlier.*3 He was associated with Bar Harbor's Friends of Acadia, an independent support organization to Acadia National Park; a director at the Jackson Laboratory, a mammalian genetics research institution in Bar Harbor; a trustee of the Maine Sea Coast Mission in Bar Harbor, an organization that provides spiritual, health and youth development programs in Maine coastal communities; and a trustee of the Wendell Gilley Museum, a community center in nearby Southwest Harbor that celebrates the life and work of a pioneer in the field of decorative bird carving.*4  He was a member of the prestigious Pot and Kettle Club in Hulls Cove as well. In 2008 Bates College awarded Kinney, a trustee for 27 years, its highest honor, the Benjamin Elijah Mays Medal, for his distinguished service to the college and the community.

E. Robert Kinney died in Arizona on May 2, 2013 at the age of 96.

Note: I wish to thank Nina Gormley and Anna Ryan for their contributions to this article.

*Kinney photo courtesy of Bates College.

* Footnotes:
1 GPS coordinates of Cadillac summit plaque: N44° 21.185'  W068° 13.514'
2 Bar Harbor Times, July 12, 1945, pp. 1 and 8.
3 Hancock County, Maine, Registry of Deeds: Book 1175/Page 480 et al.
4 Here's a tribute to Mr. Kinney by David Shaw, Chairman Emeritus of the Jackson Laboratory’s Board of Governing Trustees and Corporation.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Don. That is an amazing person who certainly deserves a plaque as a contributor to both the regional economy and conservation efforts. interesting to see how the family got around the NPS ban on memorials. Donating an information sign for hikers is an excellent way to memorialize someone while doing good if done tastefully. Good for them and good for you to bring this to public attention. I fondly remember those tasty fish sticks.
    Jim Linnane