Atkins Pickle Company was the major industry in the town of Atkins (Pope County) for more than fifty years, and its legacy survives in the annual Picklefest celebration that began in 1992. The building that housed the pickle plant now houses Atkins Prepared Foods. The new company employs more people than the pickle plant did at its end, but it does not provide the same level of recognition for the town once dubbed the “Pickle Capital of the World” and known as the home of the fried dill pickle.
In 1946, a group of citizens led by Lee Cheek raised $17,000 for a loan to the Goldsmith Pickle Company of Chicago, which had agreed to invest $75,000 of its money if $15,000 was raised locally. The company purchased land and erected two buildings. The original facility also contained fifty-seven wooden tanks with a storage capacity of 1,000 bushels each. On July 17, 1946, a test run was made, and the Atkins Pickle Company plant began full operations a few days later with approximately 100 employees. The payroll had increased to 150 by August. The plant grew during the next two years. With W. W. Daugherty as field representative, the plant had contracts with 821 farmers for 1,200 acres of cucumbers. Roy Taylor, a vocational agriculture teacher, succeeded Daugherty as field manager in 1951 and continued in the position for several years.
When the plant failed to make a profit during its first two years, Goldsmith sold it to a group of Arkansas businessmen, including C. Hamilton Moses and Virgil Jackson, both of Little Rock (Pulaski County), and William Forrest Lemley of Russellville (Pope County). On February 28, 1951, it was purchased by a group headed by E. G. Watkins of Little Rock and his wife, who hired Robert Switzer as chemist. He developed many of the products that were important for the company’s growth. He developed pickled baby tomatoes, called “Tomolives,” and formulated the improved taste and crispness of fresh-pack sweet and dill pickles.
Several other ownership changes came during the 1950s and 1960s, until sales reached $2.4 million in 1962 and totaled $3.1 million by 1966. Switzer resigned in 1968 to organize a pickle company in New Mexico. Russell Dilks, who joined the company in 1964, was credited with improving sales techniques and the appearance of products. During the 1960s and 1970s, the company continued to buy products from small growers in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas, including some grown at the state prison farms. It had sales of $5 million, with major markets in Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Colorado.
During the early years, the plant produced specialty items such as Tomolives, as well as pickled okra, peppers, and onions. Gift packs of these items were given to dignitaries visiting Arkansas. However, after Dean Foods bought the plant in 1983, it shifted production to varieties of pickles that could be mass produced, and sales soon reached more than $40 million. Employment was 400 to 500 during the early fresh-pack seasons. In 1992, the Atkins Picklefest was inaugurated, with the pickle plant being a major contributor and providing all the pickles as well as tours of the plant.
Dean Foods closed the plant in 2002 in the midst of a flooded market. Another factor in the plant’s closure was the purchase of Dean by Suiza Corporation. The company retained the Atkins trademark at first but has since discontinued its use. In 2004, the plant was turned over to Atkins Prepared Foods, a chicken processing plant.
For additional information:
Stewart, Shea. "What's in a Pickle?" Arkansas Life (August 2014): pp. 85–87. Online at http://arkansaslife.com/whats-in-a-pickle/ (accessed June 30, 2017).
Tyson, Van A. “It Was a Going Jessie: Atkins Pickle Plant Manager for 19 Years Reflects on Its History.” Picklefest Supplement to Atkins Chronicle. May 14, 2002, p. 11.
———. “Switzer a Major Factor in the Atkins Pickle Development.” Picklefest Supplement to Atkins Chronicle. May 15, 2002, p. 16.
———. “Waiting for the Last Jar.” Picklefest supplement to Atkins Chronicle. May 15, 2002, p. 5.
“Welcome to Picklefest 2002.” Supplement to Atkins Chronicle. May 15, 2002.
Van A. Tyson
The Atkins Chronicle