Thursday, September 16, 2021

New Foods of the 19th Century – Part Two (1867-1900) by Jo-Ann Roberts

Last month in Part One of my New Foods of the 19th Century, I talked about foods that evolved in the early part of the century. Pullman loaves, toffee, cocoa, cornstarch, potato chips, Borden's condensed milk, conversation hearts, and Fleischmann yeast are products still used in the 21st century.

Here are a few more familiar offerings from the latter part of that century which I'm sure you have on your pantry shelf right now!

Tabasco Sauce
Following the Civil War, the diet of the Reconstruction South was bland, at least by Louisiana standards. So Edmund McIlhenny decided to create a pepper sauce to give the food a bit of flavor and zing!

As an avid gardener, McIlhenny received seeds of peppers that had come from Mexico or Central America. In 1868 on Avery Island, he sowed the seeds, nurtured the plants, and delighted in the spicy flavor the peppers bore.

The next year, he distributed hundreds of bottles of sauce at one dollar apiece wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast. He called his product "Tabasco", a word of Mexican Indian origin meaning 'place where the soil is humid". In 1870, McIlhenny secured a patent for his product.

Graham Crackers
Today's graham crackers are known as crunchy, sweet, and necessary to support gooey, toasted marshmallows, and chocolate.

However, the original recipe for the cracker was surprisingly designed as a healthy food. Developed by Reverend Sylvester Graham of Connecticut in 1870, the cracker was consumed as part of an extremely restrictive, bland diet. Graham's beliefs included the idea that sugary, spicy, or otherwise flavorful foods led to an increased appetite for evil human desires. 

The Graham crackers were baked hard and dry like a sea biscuit or hardtack. Consumers found it necessary to moisten and soften them before eating. By 1882 a flat, slightly sweet cookie called a "graham cracker" was well known. The reverend's legacy survives today mostly in the form of cookies named after him.

The main ingredients in early preparations were graham flour, oil, shortening or lard, molasses, and salt. In1898 the National Biscuit Company was the first enterprise to mass-produce the crackers at that time.

Cream Cheese
In 1872, an American dairyman, William Lawrence of Chester, New York, accidentally stumbled on a method of producing cream cheese while trying to reproduce a French cheese called Neufchatel.
Lawrence began distributing his cream cheese in 1880 in foil wrappers with the Empire Cheese Company logo printed on the outside. However, consumers know it better by the more famous name he came up with for his "not Neufchatel" -- Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese.

In 1912, James Kraft invented pasteurized cheese which led to his purchase of Lawrence's business and the beginning of Kraft's pasteurized Philadelphia Brand cream cheese.


Heinz Products
The son of German immigrants, Henry Heinz began packing foodstuffs in the basement of his father's former house in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. Along with a friend, Clarence Noble, they began marketing their first product--his mother's recipe for horseradish. 

The company went bankrupt in 1875. The following year Heinz founded another company, F & J Heinz, with his brother John, and a cousin Frederick Heinz. One of this company's first products was Heinz tomato ketchup. The company began to grow and the rest is history.

In 1888, Henry bought out his two partners and reorganized the company as the H.J. Heinz Company. Its slogan, "57 varieties", was introduced in 1896. Inspired by an advertisement he saw while riding an elevated train in New York City (a shoe store boasting "21 styles"), Heinz picked the number more or less at random!

Fig Newtons
Who knew there was such controversy over a 120-year-old cookie!

Story #1: In 1891, baker James Henry Mitchell invented a machine that would allow a cake-like cookie, filled with fig jam, to be made. The machine was a funnel within a funnel. Efficient and handy, the Kennedy Biscuit Works snatched up the machine and began producing the famous cookie. The name of the cookie originally was "Newtons" taken from the town of Newton, a suburb of Boston. The Kennedy Biscuit Works later became a part of the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco). Neither the taste, shape, or size of the Fig Newtons has been changed in 120 years.

Story #2: Here's an alternate story from  Ray Arsenault in the St. Petersburg Times...

"The man who originated the Fig Newton, Charles Roser put his cookie recipe to work in his factory in Kenton, Ohio, and sold out to Nabisco in 1910."

 ...and according to Nabisco: " Fig Newtons were named after either Sir Isaac Newton or the town of Newton, Massachusetts."
Cracker Jack
According to legend, Frederick and Louis Rueckheim experimented with a concoction combining popcorn, molasses, and peanuts which they sold at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Following the exposition, orders for the confection rose.  One day a Louis gave the treat to a salesman who reportedly exclaimed, "That's crackerjack!" So impressed, the Rueckheim's had the words trademarked. Of course, at the time, the term "crackerjack" was a commonly used slang word meaning "first-rate" or "excellent". 

Cracker Jack was soon sold in snack bars at circuses, fairs, and sporting events. It became so popular the brand was immortalized in the third line of the song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game".
                                    'Take me out to the ball game,
                                    "Take me out to the fair,
                                    "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,"...

In 1912, a small toy was included in every package. Sailor Jack and his dog, Bingo, first appeared in 1918. 

Following World War I, sentiment against German-Americans remained high. There was some talk that the Rueckheims, German immigrants, weren't patriotic enough. So to prove their allegiance to America, they changed the packaging to red, white, and blue.

Dr Pepper
In 1885, in Waco, Texas, Brooklyn-born pharmacist, Charles Alderton formulated a new drink at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store. To test this new kind of soda pop, made with 23 flavors, he offered it to the store owner, Wade Morrison, who named it Dr. Pepper (later stylized as Dr Pepper). It soon caught on, and patrons began ordering a "Waco".  The concoction was introduced nationally in the U.S.  at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904.

Its introduction in 1885 preceded the arrival of Coca-Cola by one year, with early advertisements claiming that it "aids digestion and restores vim, vigor, and vitality".

In 1886, Atlanta pharmacist, John S. Pemberton formulated the concoction, Coca-Cola at the Pemberton Chemical Company. His bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, chose the name for the drink and penned it in the flowing script that became its trademark. 
John Pemberton, the originator of Coca-Cola

Pemberton originally touted his drink as a tonic for most common ailments, basing it on cocaine from the coca leaf and caffeine-rich extracts of the kola nut. The cocaine was removed from Coca-Cola's formula in 1903.  He sold his syrup to local soda fountains, and, with advertising, the drink became wildly successful.

Believed to be the first coupon ever, this ticket for a free glass of Coca-Cola was first distributed in 1888 to help promote the drink. By 1913, the company had redeemed 8.5 million tickets.

Campbell Soup
For 152 years, Campbell Soup Company has been a part of the American food culture. It is estimated that on any given day, every household has at least eight cans of Campbell products on their shelves, and purchases more than 70 products a year per family.

In 1869, Joseph Campbell, a wholesale fruit and vegetable vendor, and Abraham Anderson, a commercial canner and packer, formed Anderson & Campbell, a precursor to the Campbell Soup Company.
The partnership dissolved in 1877 when Campbell bought Anderson's share and expanded the business to include ketchup, salad dressing, and other sauces. But the Beefsteak Tomato Soup remained its best seller

When Campbell retired in 1894, Arthur Dorrance took over as company president. Three years later, he hired his nephew, John Dorrance, a chemist with a degree from MIT. Soon after, John made Campbell Soup very famous.

Soups were inexpensive to make but very expensive to ship. John Dorrance figured if he could eliminate the soup's heaviest ingredient--water--he could create a formula for condensed soup, reducing the price from $.30 to $.10 per can.

In 1898, impressed by Cornell University's football team's new colors, a Campbell Soup executive changed the soup can label to the recognizable red and white we know today.

In 1904, an illustrator and writer, Grace Drayton, added some sketches of children for her husband's advertising campaign for Campbell's condensed soups. Company executives loved the child appeal, and the Campbell Kids were born! Initially, the trademark kids were drawn as ordinary boys and girls but later took on the personas of sailors, soldiers, and other professionals.
In 1845, New York industrialist, Peter Cooper, patented a method for the manufacture of gelatin, a tasteless, odorless gelling agent made out of animal by-products. Unfortunately, it failed to catch on, but in 1897 Pearle Wait, a carpenter in upstate New York experimented with the gelatin, added fruit extract, and turned it into a dessert. His wife, May Wait, dubbed it Jell-O.

However, lacking the funds to distribute the product, he sold the recipe and rights to 20-year-old Frank Woodward for $450. Once again, sales lagged. But just as he was about to sell the rights to Jell-O to his plant superintendent for $35, Woodward's aggressive advertising efforts, which called for the distribution of recipes and samples, paid off. By 1906, sales reached one million dollars.

One aspect of the gelatinous food made it a popular choice among mothers when their children suffered from stomach ailments. Today, doctors still recommend serving Jell-O water--that is, unhardened Jell-O--to children suffering stomach issues.

Researching these foods was such fun! The ingenuity, happenstance, a twist of fate, or plain good fortune gave rise to foods we still use today.

Campbell History - Campbell Soup Company
The History of Jell-O (



  1. What an interesting post. Some of these foods are ones I have eaten for years. So glad Cracker Jacks and Dr Pepper came along! [gr]

  2. Bea, this two-part post was so much fun to research and write. I love discovering the origins of foods, how they came into existence, and that we still eat these foods more than one hundred seventy-five years ago!


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