Fascinating food for thought: Some of the most common foods you see on grocery store shelves have been around for decades - if not centuries. These items have been staples in the diets of people around the world for much longer than you realize, perhaps gracing the palates of international celebrities, political leaders, or your own ancestors from days gone by. While the companies and corporations that own many food brands have changed over time, many have held true to original recipes and processes.
Identifying exactly when brands were developed alongside significant historical events offers a unique context for how long the foods you eat have been enjoyed by the masses. It may really surprise you. Next time you head to the pantry to grab a snack, think about what was happening in the world when your favorites were first made - and just how far back that really happened.
Godfrey Keebler established his Philadelphia, PA, bakery in 1853. The German immigrant enlisted his sons into the business and, with continued success through regional distribution, merged with United Biscuit Company of America in either 1926 or 1927.
A move to keep up with competitor National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), this linked Keebler with fellow cookie, bread, and cracker makers, such as Streitmann (based in Cincinnati, OH). Keebler, one of several entities that formed the United Biscuit federation, transitioned to the corporate name for the entire body in 1966.
Keebler's cookies and crackers were baked in the decade preceding Abraham Lincoln's presidency, perhaps even making their way to Washington, DC. The election of 1860 was controversial, with Republican Lincoln running against Democrat Stephen Douglas. After the Democrats failed to agree on a candidate, however, a second member of the party, John Breckinridge, ran as a Southern Democrat against Constitutional Union Party candidate John Bell.
Lincoln's election prompted states in the American South to secede from the Union, fearful that their slavery-based livelihoods were destined to end under the new president. The American Civil War broke out the following year and, according to some sources, Keebler provided bread in the form of hardtack to the Union Army during the conflict.
Oscar F. Mayer, an immigrant from Bavaria, came to the United States as a 14-year-old boy, settling in Detroit, MI, with his family. Mayer worked as a butcher from a young age, later relocating to Chicago, IL, where he transitioned to a role in retail. In 1883, Mayer and his brother, Gottfried, opened their Oscar F. Mayer & Bro. shop in Chicago, selling meat as a retail and wholesale commodity.
During the early 20th century, the Mayer brothers expanded, first purchasing a manufacturing plant in Madison, WI, and later branding their own meat products. The first yellow band was placed on Mayer meats in 1929 and, in 1936, Oscar Mayer introduced the Wienermobile.
Oscar Mayer wieners (the jingle didn't come out until 1963) were born the same year that Buffalo Bill's Wild West show kicked off in another section of the North American heartland. The show was founded in North Platte, NE, and William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody launched what General William Tecumseh Sherman described as a "wonderfully realistic and historically reminiscent" show that brought the Wild West to life.
The "Wild West, Rocky Mountain, and Prairie Exhibition" premiered on July 4, 1883. During its 30-year run, it featured its namesake, the former Pony Express rider and Indian scout, alongside cowgirl Annie Oakley, Native American warriors, fast-roping horseback riders, and a host of other acts. The show re-created the American West while simultaneously romanticizing it for audiences around the country. It garnered international attention, even traveling to London to perform for Queen Victoria in 1887.
Founded in Brooklyn, NY, the first Entenmann's bakery was opened by William Entenmann in 1898. The German immigrant was born into baking, learning from his father before working in a bread factory in the United States. At his Brooklyn shop, Entenmann baked cakes, breads, and rolls, taking them to sell via horse-drawn wagon.
After his son became ill, the family moved to Bay Shore, Long Island, in 1900. William Jr. later took over for his father, helping the company thrive through the early 20th century. It wasn't until mid-century that Entenmann stopped making bread to focus on pastries instead.
While Entenmann was bringing baked goods to doorsteps in Brooklyn, the United States was in a conflict with Spain. When the US declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898, it was in support of Cuban and Filipino resistance to Spanish rule. At the time, Spain held Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and numerous Micronesian islands as part of its waning empire. Another contributing factor was the explosion of the USS Maine in February of 1898. With 268 sailors having lost their lives on board, the explosion triggered already existing tensions between the two countries, with Americans blaming Spain for the blast.
After the formal declaration of war, the US undertook a three-month campaign in Latin America and the Pacific alike. Commodore George Dewey headed the naval fleet sent to Manila Bay in the Philippines, taking out its Spanish counterpart in about two hours. In the Caribbean, military troops and volunteers, including Theodore Roosevelt and the "Rough Riders," pushed the Spanish fleet out of Santiago Harbor, ultimately sending Admiral Pascual Cervera and his ships into the hands of the US Navy.
The conflict ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed in December 1898, which ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the US. The US also became sovereign over the Philippines after paying Spain $20 million, and Spain gave up its claims on Cuba.
While the Del Monte brand is now associated with canned and packaged fruits and vegetables, the name Del Monte was first used on coffee in 1886. As a product of the Oakland Preserving Company in California, Del Monte coffee was made for the Hotel Del Monte in Monterey.
When a group of food producers in California combined to form the California Fruit Canners Association (CFCA) in 1899, the name Del Monte continued to be used, soon rising to the top of the group's premier brands. Del Monte was applied to products from the San Jose Fruit Packing Company and, after the California Packing Corporation joined the CFCA, used on their products as well.
As California's food producers were consolidating to meet consumer demand, drive down prices, and extend their influence in the market, Native American groups in the United States were at the end of their resistance to the federal government. After a lifetime of clashes with Mexican and American settlers alike, Apache warrior Geronimo surrendered to the US on September 4, 1886.
Geronimo, born in 1829 in present-day Arizona, had relocated to a reservation in 1874. Geronimo and his followers escaped, undertaking a series of raids and strikes on federal troops and non-native settlements. In March 1886, Geronimo surrendered for the first time, only to escape and remain on the run for a few more months. When Geronimo finally relented, he reportedly said, "We have not slept for six months and are worn out." Geronimo and his followers were sent to Florida, then Alabama, and finally Oklahoma, where the Apache leader passed on February 17, 1909.
Pillsbury has origins reaching back as far as 1869 when it first produced flour from its mill in Minneapolis, MN. The company's founder, Charles A. Pillsbury, acquired more mills during the early 1870s, soon reorganizing his business to create C.A. Pillsbury and Company in 1872.
Pillsbury grew to dominate the flour market in the United States, in large part due to the incorporation of increasingly efficient grain elevator and steam-rolling technologies. In 1889, the Pillsbury-Washburn Flour Mills Company Ltd., took shape, consolidating flour manufacturing activities in Minnesota still further. Washburn was held by a British syndicate, however, allowing Pillsbury to expand internationally as well.
Jesse James, born in 1847, was well into his outlaw career by the late 1860s and early 1870s. James fought with Confederate guerilla troops during the American Civil War, staging his first bank holdup only one year after the conflict ended. With his brother Frank and a member of the James-Younger Gang, James held up trains, stages, and banks from Minnesota through Kentucky and into Mississippi.
James achieved folk hero status during his life, provoking fascination among journalists and the general public alike. His activities prompted Missouri Governor Thomas T. Crittenden to offer a large reward for Jesse and Frank James in 1881, to no avail. Jesse was shot by his associate, Robert Ford, in 1882.
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As a product of the McIlhenny Company, Tabasco traces its origins to 1868. Edmund McIlhenny created what would become Tabasco Original Red Pepper Sauce from his home state of Louisiana, using the same recipe that remains popular today.
McIlhenny came up with a hot sauce that would add a kick to bland Southern food, incorporating seeds from a specific type of chili pepper - the capsicum frutescens. During the first year of production, McIlhenny sold just over 650 bottles of hot sauce, mostly to regional outlets along the Gulf Coast. He adopted the term "Tabasco," a Mexican Indian word that means either "place where the soil is humid" or "place of the coral or oyster shell." Two years later, McIlhenny got a patent for his Tabasco Sauce and soon expanded his product to markets across the US and abroad.
As McIlhenny set out on his business venture, the United States was similarly entering a new phase. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, former Confederate states slowly reentered the Union during the Reconstruction period. States were placed under martial law while they formed new governments. To rejoin the US, states had to meet several requirements, including acceptance of emancipation and ratification of the newly passed 14th and 15th Amendments. The latter extended citizenship protections and voting rights to African Americans.
Tennessee was the first former Confederate state to reenter the Union, brought back in on June 24, 1866. During 1868, seven states - Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia (later put back under federal control due to breaching the terms of reentry), Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina - all returned to the United States.