Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hooked on the American Dream: a Fish Story

(by Diane Cooper, Museum Specialist)

One San Francisco day in the mid-1860s, an Italian immigrant fishing for his supper caught two fish on one hook.  When a passing gold miner offered to purchase the extra fish, the enterprising young immigrant suddenly found his version of the American dream.  A native of Ancona, Italy, born in 1843, Achille Paladini immigrated to San Francisco in 1865.  With little formal education, he used his determination, drive, and vision to create A. Paladini Inc.  Over the years the company Achille Paladini started became the west coast's largest wholesale seafood distributor and Achille became known as "The Fish King."

A. Paladini, Inc. sign from the 1920s or 1930s (SAFR 20154)

Paladini always maintained his headquarters in San Francisco, but with time he added branch offices in Oakland and Los Angeles and built processing plants in Eureka and Fort Bragg.  He also had twelve receiving stations located up and down the coast from Crescent City, in northern California, all the way south to Mexico.  A fleet of six company fishing trawlers supplied daily fresh fish, which the company sold to restaurants, hotels, and markets throughout California and the western United States.

Envelope from Oakland office (SAFR 20180)

San Francisco office letterhead (SAFR 20182)
Santa Cruz receiving station letterhead (SAFR 20179)

Company truck outside the San Francisco office (P93-001)

By the 1990s the Paladini family donated a 1927 GMC truck, restored to replicate the original trucks used by Paladini, to the Park.  It can be seen on board the Park's historic ferryboat Eureka berthed at Hyde Street Pier.  The truck and one of the original Paladini fish carts, both of which are currently on display, are among a number of artifacts in the Park's collection from the A. Paladini Inc. wholesale seafood company, a business that played a major role in San Francisco's fishing industry.

Fish cart in the Visitor Center (SAFR 21245)
A. Paladini truck on ferryboat Eureka (SAFR 11919)

In addition to the artifacts mentioned and pictured above, other artifacts from A. Paladini Inc. donated to the Park's collection include a typewriter and adding machine from a company office, two A. Paladini Inc. wooden boxes (one labeled "Kippered Cod" and the other labeled "Boneless Salt Cod"), two labels (one for Paladini's Dungeness Crab Meat and the other for Paladini's Shrimp Meat), a sign stencil, a memorabilia display, a photographic collection, and an archival collection containing original business correspondence for A. Paladini Inc. as well as some information on the family.  These artifacts help to tell the story of Achille Paladini, a young Italian immigrant who, by lowering a single hook onto the Bay, caught not only his supper but his part of the American Dream and became an integral part of San Francisco's fishing community.

Canned shrimp meat label (SAFR 20162)
Canned dungeness crab meat label (SAFR 20163)
Kippered cod box (SAFR 20152)
Office adding machine (SAFR 20149)

Achille Paladini died in 1921 at the age of 78, leaving the family business to his sons.  In 1974, after the passing of that second generation, the company was sold to a group of outside investors unfamiliar with the world of wholesale seafood and, approximately four years after the purchase, the 110-year-old business closed.


  1. Great artifacts! That adding machine is a work of art.

  2. I heard that his grand son who was named after him Achille "Kiki" Paladini started up the business again a few months after it closed with little or no money just like his grand father and replicated the original company and was a tremendous success, a similar story just like his grand father!