John E. Shannon is one of the earliest fruit growers of the Yakima Valley, and he came to the Pacific Northwest with life experiences similar to so many others that followed him. He was born in Ohio in 1860 to a family whose forefathers had arrived in this country from Ireland prior to the Revolutionary War. His grandfather had been born on the Shannon River in Ireland, and one of the members of the family was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
He received his early education in Ohio and worked on the family farm. At the age of 18, he moved to Denver, where he became a civil engineer and built irrigation canals throughout Colorado. He relocated to Wyoming in 1884 and continued his civil engineering career, building more irrigation canals and also becoming involved in railroad construction. Somewhere during this period he married because by 1893, when he moved to Yakima seeking new business opportunities, he already had a family. In 1895, he purchased 25 acres at 28th Avenue and Nob Hill Boulevard (land considerably west of the then new city of North Yakima, Washington) and planted fruit.
As he prospered, Shannon bought more land even further west of the city in Cowiche and planted more fruit, soon having 78 acres of apples, pears, peaches and plums in full production. He put his civil engineering skills back to work when he helped build the tunnel and siphon under the Cowiche Creek when the Congdon Ditch, one of the first large scale private irrigation projects in the Yakima Valley, was built. He purchased 40 acres of raw land south of his original orchard which ultimately became part of the Yakima Airport complex. All together, his holdings were known as the Optimus Fruit Ranch.
Shannon was far ahead of his time. He was one of the first homeowners to have both electricity and a telephone installed. He was instrumental in obtaining the right of way for the streetcar main and spur lines to go from the city, past the front of his house, and on to Wiley City and its many fruit warehouses. For his work on this project, the parent company of the Yakima Interurban Transportation Company rewarded Shannon with a railroad pass that allowed him to travel for free all over the United States on the North Coast Limited. And he helped promote and sell the then-rare concept of mausoleums for above-ground burial. Yakima’s Tahoma Cemetery Mausoleum, where Shannon is buried, was built under his guidance and with his vision.
He was a charter member of the Yakima County Horticultural Union and one of the organizers of the Yakima Valley Fruit Growers Association. He owned his own cold storage and packing plants because this allowed him to not only raise his own fruit but also buy, pack, and ship produce grown by others. Although Shannon’s marketing efforts made use of only one label throughout the company’s history, it is unique. Unlike a regular apple label, which was usually 9"x10-1/2" in size, the S Brand label is 7-1/2" x 8-3/4". Furthermore, since it was both a smaller size and did not carry a weight designation, the S Brand label could then be used on the various-sized wood crates to ship apples, pears, plums, peaches and apricots. It was also a play on the name of Shannon’s ranch—Optimus. According to the 1908 edition of the "Standard Dictionary of the English Language, the principal meaning of the word optimus is best. The S Brand from Optimus Fruit Ranch is a play on words that means what it says.