Gorton’s of Gloucester is a subsidiary of the Japanese seafood conglomerate Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd., producing fishsticks and other frozen seafood for the retail market in the United States. Gorton’s also has a North American food service business which sells to fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s, and an industrial coating ingredients operation. It has been headquartered in Gloucester, Massachusetts, since 1849.
The company traces its roots to a fishery called John Pew & Sons. William Pew, son of John Pew, picked up fishing after serving as a Colonial soldier in the French and Indian War. While most people moved West after the war, Pew turned eastward and arrived in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1755. The father-and-son fishery business emerged as an official commercial company, John Pew & Sons, in 1849.
When nearby Rockport’s chief industry, the Annisquam Cotton Mill, burned down, Slade Gorton, the mill’s superintendent, was out of a job. At his wife’s urging, he began a fishing business in 1874 known as Slade Gorton & Company, and began to pack and sell salt codfish and mackerel in small kegs. This company was the first to package salt-dried fish in barrels. In 1899, the company patented the “Original Gorton Fish Cake.” In 1905, the Slade Gorton Company adopted the fisherman at the helm of a schooner (the “Man at the Wheel”) as the company trademark. Today, he is known as the Gorton’s Fisherman.
In 1906, Slade Gorton & Company and John Pew & Sons and two other Gloucester fisheries merged into the Gorton-Pew Fisheries. They made Gorton’s codfish cakes a household name in New England. The company offices were located at 372 Main Street, Gloucester, in the same building where Gorton’s Main Office is located today.
The company went into the fish-freezing business in the early 1930s. In 1949, Gorton-Pew made headlines when it drove the first refrigerator trailer truck shipment of frozen fish from Gloucester, Massachusetts, to San Francisco, California – a trip that took eight days. In 1953, the company was the first to introduce a frozen ready-to-cook fish stick, Gorton’s Fish Sticks, which won the Parents Magazine Seal of Approval.
In 1957, Gorton-Pew Fisheries name was changed to Gorton’s of Gloucester; in 1965, it became The Gorton Corporation, and it is now known as Gorton’s. In 1968, Gorton’s merged with General Mills, Inc., as a wholly owned subsidiary.
In May 1995, Unilever bought Gorton’s from General Mills. In August 2001, Unilever sold Gorton’s and BlueWater Seafoods to Nippon Suisan (USA), Inc., a subsidiary of Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd., for US$175 million in cash.
In 2005, Nissui acquired King & Prince Seafood of Brunswick, Georgia. Gorton’s came under attack from the Environmental Investigation Agency, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Greenpeace, due to their aforementioned company’s involvement in whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. These groups hoped that international companies owned by Nippon Suisan Kaisha (such as Gorton’s) would persuade their parent company to stop supporting whaling if they were put under enough pressure. Eventually, Nippon Suisan Kaisha agreed to divest its ownership in the company that owned the whaling fleet. Greenpeace hailed this as a victory and the boycott of Gorton’s ended.
The iconic slogan, "Trust the Gorton's Fisherman," produced in 1978, and the familiar yellow slicker and beard has made the Gorton's Fisherman a recognizable pop culture icon. In particular the Gorton’s Fisherman, has been featured on The Late Show with David Letterman numerous times and as a response on Jeopardy!.