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The story begins over a century ago, in 1904, when Michele Armato arrived at the port of New Orleans in the hopes of making a start in an exciting, new country.  At first, his dreams were modest.  He wanted to earn enough to repay his sponsor for his transit, and then to save for the passage of his young wife, who had remained behind in their hometown of Sambuca, Italy. Another family that had emigrated from Sambuca a few years earlier did Michele a great kindness by offering him a room until he got on his feet, and so he set about making his way in the new world.

The culture shock of leaving a Sicilian village for the bustle of an exploding port city made for a difficult transition, to say nothing of the living conditions common to poor immigrants in turn of the century America. But the human spirit is remarkable in the hardships it can overcome – and sometimes the creature comforts it simply cannot. Though he was prepared for poverty, hard work and sacrifice, Michele was caught completely off guard by the total lack of one thing he had always taken for granted. Olive oil was nowhere to be found.

To say that the lack of this simple product troubled Michele would be to trivialize the importance of olive oil to Italian culture. Michele was not merely troubled, but absolutely appalled by the absence of this precious fluid that was as important to him as his own blood. He asked his hosts and fellow workers how such a rich land could be without such a necessity. While they all agreed that it was almost impossible for a Sicilian to live without olive oil, they lamented that he, like everyone else, would just have to get used to it. Michele had no intention of getting used to it. So, with a handful of other enterprising Sicilian immigrants, he devised a plan to bring olive oil to the United States.

Within a few years, the chain was complete and they were prepared to put their plan into action. It started with an old friend back in Sambuca who owned a small olive grove. Next was a fellow who lived in the next town – both a barrel maker and a master at extracting the rich oil from ripe olives. Others were involved in transporting the oil overseas, and lastly came Michele, who was tasked with the final stage. He would assemble the necessary machinery to produce tin cans. This way, the olive oil, which arrived in massive casks, could be packaged for sale to his fellow countrymen.

Without the money to launch a large factory, Michele had to start small. Another friend who had arrived a number of years before Michele had met with some success and owned a building with a small workspace on Union Street. He agreed to let Michele set up shop in the unused space, on the condition that Michele pay him the back rent if his new business venture was a success. He did not have to wait for very long. Not only was Michele able to repay his friend's kindness, but his new business was such a success that it quickly outgrew the workshop on Union Street. Having fallen in love with the craft of tin making, Michele went in search of a location where he could expand beyond olive oil cans and open a full-fledged decorative tin factory. He chose Chicago as the home for his new operation, and in 1912 he left New Orleans and the Union Street workshop and founded Olive Can Company.

 
     

Though olive oil cans were its humble beginnings, Olive Can Company grew into a diversified decorative tin manufacturer under the guidance of Michele’s sons, Al and Philip. During the ‘40s and ‘50s, 80% of the nation’s sweets were produced within 100 miles of the city limits and Chicago was the undisputed epicenter of America’s candy industry. With a wealth of clients just a short drive away, Olive Can was in the ideal place to grow into a successful decorative tin manufacturer.

 
   

While Philip (thankfully) met with more success than Willy Loman, the two did share a common MO. It was the era of the traveling salesman, tossing a briefcase and some samples into the back of his Oldsmobile and calling on four or five customers every day. He worked with such confectionery stalwarts as Peerless Candies, Dove Chocolates and Fannie May, among countless others. During this time, Philip built not only a broad customer base for the family business, but also a formidable knowledge of every Italian beef stand in the city – a tradition the Armato family maintains to this day. It was also under Philip’s watch that a large portion of Olive Can’s business turned to supplying a crucial part for a remarkable new product, the color television.

The part in question was a lead-coated can designed to hold high voltage tubes. The lead coating was necessary because these special tubes gave off radioactive waves, a scant few feet from the young children sitting up close to watch every move of Howdy Doody or the Lone Ranger. Needless to say, leaving these tubes unshielded was not an option.

   
 
   

Color television was an enormous success, and soon every television in every home was equipped with a can made by the company that Michele Armato had founded forty-five years earlier. Olive Can was benefitting greatly from the color television boom, and this new product had grown to constitute nearly half of the company’s sales. Olive Can kept expanding to meet the demand, and as it expanded it became more and more profitable. But as is frequently the case in the business world, a company’s fortunes can turn on a dime, and while one remarkable invention had ushered in a sudden era of prosperity for the Armato family, another threatened to end it just a quickly: The Transistor.

The words "solid state" struck fear into the company's management. It was now 1966, and within two years, a TV tube can would roll off an Olive Can line for the last time. Into this uncertain future came Keith Armato.

 
 
     
 

In typical fashion, Keith didn’t wait long to join the family business. He came to work for Olive Can Company in 1966, the summer after his freshman year of high school. Upon joining his father, Philip, he saw a company worried about its future. Their primary product would soon be obsolete, and in focusing on the TV tube business, Olive Can had been lax in defending its other customers from the competition. Working part-time for the next three years, Keith saw how a company could quickly go from good times to bad because of a lack of vision.

 
   

Keith took two years off for college, and then joined the company full-time in 1970 while taking courses part-time to finish his education. During this time, he helped to develop a market for promotional food tins, working with companies like Pillsbury, Carnation, Borden’s and Nestle. By 1973, the clients Keith had brought to Olive Can accounted for 80% of their business, and a solid, diverse customer base had been restored.

In 1975, Philip passed away, and Keith felt the company could never be the same without his father at the helm. For the next five years, he went to work at Wisconsin Can Company, which was run by another branch of the Armato family. At the time, Wisconsin Can was an industrial can manufacturer, and Keith’s challenge was to develop the company’s decorative manufacturing capabilities. It was at Wisconsin Can where Keith gained experience in the manufacturing of tins themselves, including purchasing, machinery, tooling, printing and the manufacturing process. He took over the day to day operations of Wisconsin Can, and within five years he was responsible for quadrupling the company’s sales and developing its manufacturing capability to support this growth.

   
 

But the writing was on the wall. The American market was evolving and tin packaging was beginning to stagnate. For decades, a tin manufacturer could be successful offering standard four color printing and a few stock sizes of round tins. But customers were increasingly reluctant to settle for the same old look, and Keith was in the position of being asked to develop new, unique types of metal packaging at incredible cost. Even in the rare instances where customers had a requirement that would justify the expense of tooling, they would rarely commit to a large purchase without first seeing samples or being able to test the market.

The demand for custom, unique metal packaging was growing, but the manufacturers were unable to respond.  And so, Keith set out on his own to research and develop a means of meeting this demand.  The solution could only be found overseas.

   
 
   

Keith spent two years traveling the world, visiting can manufacturers from many different countries and discussing the difficulties of developing unique metal packaging for the American market. He visited over 100 factories during this time, and returned with a better understanding not only of the manufacturing capabilities of other nations, but also of their sense of design. For the past two decades, Keith has utilized the unique strengths of various international manufacturers to bring stylish, innovative metal packaging to the American market. This expertise, combined with his old love of working one-on-one with customers, is how he has built Union Street Packaging Co. into a company uniquely suited to provide the production capabilities, sense of style and personal attention that today’s market requires.

   
 
   
 

Dominic now represents the fourth generation of Armato tin manufacturers. Having grown up traveling to countries like Japan, Italy, China, Korea, Germany and England with his father on business, an international angle to tin manufacturing is the only one he’s ever known. While his father passes along generations of knowledge, Dominic remains committed to finding ways to utilize modern technology to streamline the international manufacturing process and bring a constantly evolving sense of style and design to everything Union Street Tin Co. produces.