San Francisco County









FONTANA, MARK JOHN, General Manager of the California Fruit Canners’ Association, San Francisco, Cal., and father of the Italian-Swiss Agricultural colony of California, was born at Cerisola, Province of Genoa, Italy, May, 1849, the son of Giuseppe Fontana and Boro (Bianca) Fontana.  While a child his father brought him to America and settled in New York City.  In 1867 the son came to California, and in June, 1877, was married at San Leandro, Alameda county, to Miss Nellie Jones.  The children of this marriage are Margaret, Mark, Jr., Roland and Richard Fontana.

      Mr. Fontana’s education, like his subsequent success in life, was gained under very trying conditions.  When he was ten years of age he attended a private night school in New York City for about six months, paying a dollar a month for the privilege.  Subsequently he entered an English night school in the same city, but his lack of means conspired with his desire to get a firm grip on the American language to force him into the task of educating himself.

      For a while during this schooling he sold papers and worked in an umbrella factory in the day time, but about the year 1861 he struck the first turning point on the rocky road and moved into smother traveling as office and general utility boy in the fruit and commission house of West, Titus & Co.  Here in a few years he rose to the position of salesman.  In 1867, catching the “gold fever,” he started for California, and on January 3 of the following year reached San Francisco with one hundred dollars carefully fastened in one of his inside pockets.

      The “gold fields,” however, on closer inspection, proved disappointing.  Disgusted at the outlook, he advertised in the papers for “any kind of work,” but received no response.  Chancing one day upon a young man whom he had known in New York, he made a defensive and offensive alliance with him to support each other until one of them should find employment, Fontana doing the supporting while his companion occupied himself chiefly in painting word pictures of the “hard times.”  As his little roll was about to disappear under the double strain imposed upon it, the companion told Mr. Fontana of a “job” to be had in a barber shop of the Washington Baths.  In his zeal to get it he promised the purveyor of the glad tidings ten dollars – on condition that his application proved successful.  This it was, and involved, among other things, steady occupation from 6 a. m. to 11 p. m., scrubbing floors, washing out bath tubs, and other edifying exercise.  He endured this for about a year, and then drifted into the fruit business, in the employ of A. Galli & Co.  In this he evidently “found himself,” for within two years he was admitted as a partner in the firm.

      In 1872 Mr. Fontana became a partner of C. M. Volkman in fruit and commission, but thinking that he could do better in the shipping business, he formed a partnership with G. Ginnochio, and subsequently bought him out.  Later, in 1880, he shifted his operations to the canning industry and formed the firms of M. J. Fontana & Co.  In 1893, on the retirement of his associate, Mr. Cowing, he took in as partner S. L. Goldstein, and two years later William Fries.  This combination sold in 1898 to the California Fruit Growers’ Association, of which Mr. Fontana is the General Superintendent, Wm. Fries President and S. L. Goldstein Treasurer.

      Mr. Fontana served as a Supervisor under the Phelan administration.  He is a director and member of the executive board of the California Fruit Canners’ Association, California Wine Association, Italian and American Bank, the E. B. and A. L. Stone Co., Italian-Swiss Agricultural Colony, and a member of the San Francisco Commercial and the Olympic Clubs.





Transcribed by Betty Vickroy.

Source: Press Reference Library, Western Edition Notables of the West, Vol. I,  Page 281, International News Service, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta.  1913.

© 2007 Betty Vickroy.


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San Francisco County


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