NOTE: The Blair County Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame Dinner will be held at the Blair County Convention Center.
Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of four stories on each of the businesses being inducted this year into the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame.
Ever eat a frozen chicken pot pie?
Although Altoona is best known for the railroad, the frozen chicken pie industry originated in the city at Frozen Farm Products, 1735 Margaret Ave., in 1945.
Frozen Farm Products will be one of four businesses inducted into the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Business Hall of Fame Oct. 19 at the Blair County Convention Center.
"It is an honor to be elected. It is an honor to be recognized as part of the history of the Blair County business community," said Steve Port, who served as a vice president at Frozen Farm Products from 1958 to 1961.
Samuel Port, who in 1934 had joined his brothers-in-law Israel and Moses Sky at Sky Brothers, is credited for starting the frozen chicken pie industry.
"My father had a lot of progressive ideas. He was a visionary. He was the first to make frozen chicken pies," said Steve Port. "We probably produced 500 cases of chicken pies in a day."
Sky Brothers, a food distributor, had been sending out trucks to Florida, the Midwest and entire Eastern Seaboard to bring frozen merchandise back to Altoona. Because the trucks had a lot of extra room when leaving Altoona, the idea of producing something to ship out on them made good business sense.
Frozen Farm Products was created in 1943 when the existing Citizens Ice Co. plant was purchased to house the business as a subsidiary of Sky Brothers. It was then incorporated, with Samuel Port as president and manager.
"This company, which employed 300 people at one time, is an integral part of our business community's history," said Hall of Fame Chairwoman Andrea Young of the Van Zandt VA Medical Center. "The Hall of Fame Heritage category would not be complete without the addition of Frozen Farm Products."
The frozen chicken pies, named "Rose Port Chicken Pies" after Samuel's wife, Rose Sky Port, weren't the primary product of Frozen Farm Products, a poultry processing business with 30,000 to 60,000 live chicken shipped in a week.
"They were the first," Steve Port said. "The primary products were whole chickens and chicken parts - frozen and fresh wings, drumsticks, thighs and breasts."
Local customers included A&P, Quaker Markets and many independents. Shipments also went out to Chicago, Detroit, New York and Puerto Rico.
Nothing went to waste - all parts of the chickens were used.
The internal organs were converted into 50-pound bags of frozen mink food and sold to local mink farmers. They also were converted into one-pound cans of dog food under the label SPORT. The feet were frozen and shipped to Hong Kong for use in flavoring.
"After slaughtering chickens all day they [employees] went home and ate chicken," said Phyllis Port, Steve's wife. "I don't know how they could do that."
In addition to chicken pot pies, the pie line was expanded to include different varieties such as turkey, beef, apple, cheery, blueberry and elderberry pies.
Elderberries became a major focus in the 1940s and 1950s.
"They were small, sweet berries that grew wild in Cambria County. My father hooked up with elderberry farmers and they started to bring them into the plant. They were processed and sold to jelly companies and wine companies," Steve Port said. "That became a pretty decent business for a few years."
During its heyday, Frozen Farm products employed about 300 people.
"We were nothing like the railroad but we were among the top 15 to 20 employers in town at the time," Steve Port said.
For historical purposes, the chicken processing business and related products of Frozen Farms spanned 26 years to 1959. In the mid-1950s the live chicken business went south. Poultry-producing states in warmer climates began to dominate the industry.
In 1959 the three partners - Samuel Port and Israel and Moses Sky - decided that FFP would discontinue processing and focus on commercial frozen storage. Subsequently, they began to buy and sell fresh poultry, beef and pork products and eventually became an integral profitable part of the Sky Brothers building and total operation involving fresh meat merchandising. This newly configured business continued to operate profitably until Sky Brothers sold the business to Sara Lee in 1986.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.