• All
  • Text
  • Images
  • Audio
  • Video

Building the Image of an Empire by Janna Aladdin

The story of Seabrook Farms would be incomplete without attention to the character of Charles F. (C.F.) Seabrook. Referred to as the "Henry Ford of agriculture," Seabrook sought to revolutionize agricultural production. He envisioned a grand marriage between technological innovation and farming. His story, as remarkable as it may be, is incomplete without also discussing the nature of economic success at Seabrook Farms, clashes between management and labor, C.F. Seabrook's ambitions and suspicions, and family conflict.

This first image displays an older C. F. Seabrook, staring at something in the distance. Although it may be unclear as to what he is seeking out, the image - and its allusions to his vision - symbolizes his leading role both in the context of Seabrook Farms and in the broader agricultural industry of the time. In this image he appears concerned; something that fits well into the narrative of his life. He bought out his father, the original owner of lands that would become part of Seabrook Farms. Later in life, he remained distant from his own sons. He was a patriarch often removed from his own family's lives, but very much tied to his enterprise. C F. Seabrook was involved in every aspect of Seabrook Farms, from its inception, to its industrialization, to the close oversight of the lives of its workers. For many, he stood as an employer, a warden (as was the case for German prisoners of war), and a redeemer. Yet he remained relatively uninvolved in the lives of his children, including Belford Seabrook.

Belford Seabrook, the eldest son of C.F. Seabrook, carries a different countenance than that of his father. In this image, he stands with a smile as he looks over the construction of the company's new frozen foods plant. C. F. Seabrook had four sons and one daughter, with whom he had a complicated relationship. In a 1994 New Yorker article, "The Spinach King," C.F. Seabrook's grandson John Seabrook writes that, "Although father and sons worked side by side, they were not close. Upon further reflection, he adds, "We also realized that C.F. [Seabrook] had had no close friends in his lifetime. Seen up close, he was cold and calculating, but in public he was highly successful at projecting a warm, caring, friendly image to a large group." The Seabrook family image was central to Seabrook Farm's publicity efforts, yet the warm paternalism C.F. Seabrook projected was often nonexistent to his family and friends.

The last image is an aerial view of Seabrook that depicts it as a neat, organized, bucolic if not idyllic site. However, it does not capture the tensions that arose between laborers, C.F. Seabrook, and management. Seabrook Farms was often credited for pushing the agricultural sector forward. However, such accounts often push aside the conditions that brought some laborers to Seabrook. Seabrook Farms served as a site of protest and strikes, including the 1934 Bridgeton Strike that resulted in violent clashes between the police and strikebreakers. In telling the history of Seabrook Farms, it is critical to look past the constructed narrative to one that includes every aspect of Seabrook Farms, including the less celebratory.

C.F. Seabrook, the patriarch of the Seabrook farms dynasty, used technological innovation to revolutionize the agricultural industry and frozen food processing.
Credit: "Portrait of Charles Seabrook," N.D., Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Repository Collection.
Profile of Belford Seabrook, the eldest son of C.F. Seabrook. He was one of three brothers who helped manage and run Seabrook farms.
Credit: "Eldest son of Charles F. Seabrook, Belford Seabrook, in charge of Seabrook construction," 1950, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Repository Collection.
Aerial View of Seabrook Farms, which employed laborers from across the Nation and the world.
Credit: "Aerial view of Seabrook Farms," 1940-1949, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Repository Collection.