Thursday, December 23, 2004
Another Thing French’s Wasn’t: First Prepared Mustard
By ROGER M. GRACE
The public relations firm representing the maker of French’s Mustard spawned a press release a couple of months ago which began:
“The year was 1904. Teddy Roosevelt was president. Radio and film were brand new forms of entertainment. Some folks were wealthy enough to own their own automobiles, but never drove over the speed limit of 20 miles per hour. But until 1904, if Americans wanted mustard, they had to make it themselves.”
The release then recited the client’s stock but spurious claim that French’s Mustard and the hot dog debuted together at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. It continued:
“French’s mustard, the first prepared mustard on the market, was an instant success and has been satisfying American taste buds for 100 years.”
The release was the handiwork of Bender Hammerling Group, a PR firm in New Jersey. That state is home base of Reckitt Benckiser Inc., American subsidiary of the British conglomerate that owns French’s.
As I’ve pointed out over the past couple columns, hot dogs existed in the U.S. ’way before the 1904 fair, and had long been splashed with mustard. Moreover, French’s mustard is not likely to have adorned many (if any) wieners at the 1904 exposition; it was presented there as an ingredient for salad dressings.
Spotlighted today is French’s claim of having originated ready-made mustard.
“We were the first prepared mustard on the market,” Ellyn L. Small, vice president of Bender Hammerling, told me recently.
“There were no other prepared mustards prior to French’s Mustard being introduced,” she insisted.
The first prepared mustard in England was marketed by Taylor’s. I was so informed by Barry Levenson, curator and CMO (“chief mustard officer”) of the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum in Wisconsin . Mustard-mongering of William Taylor, the company’s founder, commenced in 1830. Levenson noted that Taylor’s company conducted its mustard-making “out of an apothecary...so its preparations were an easy extension of what it was doing.”
The Taylor’s website notes that the founder was “a herbalist” and that “mustard was part of his stock” (it was used extensively for medicinal purposes) but adds that “what made him decide to prepare a compound of mustard to sell as ready to eat, in a form that would keep fresh for years, is lost in the mists of time.”
In the early 1800s, or before, there were in all probability pharmacists, perhaps grocers, here in the New World who likewise added vinegar and/or hot water, along with spices, to mustard powder, and sold the prepared condiment to their patrons.
What is certain is that prepared mustard was available to U.S. consumers well before French’s came on the scene. This can be ascertained from pre-1904 newspapers.
On April 7, 1860, an ad in the Portmouth (Ohio) Times, placed by Wilhelm & Vanmeter, announced “Fresh Arrivals of Foreign Goods.” Among the boxes of goods received by that merchant was one which contained “French prepared Mustard.” That same newspaper reported on Dec. 20, 1879, under the heading “Good News,” that “JOHN WILHELM has received this week a hogshead of French Prepared Mustard....”
The Alton ( Ill. ) Telegraph on Feb. 5, 1864 contained an ad for Hollister & Co. noting the availability at its store of “French and American prepared MUSTARD.”
Sales of prepared mustard were common enough that the Blairsville (Pa.) Press on May 14, 1869 published a reminded to grocers “that sardines, anchovies, prepared mustard, syrups in bottles, jams, jellies, meat and fish sauces of different kinds, colognes, cosmetics, and other articles are liable to stamp duty, whether made in the United States or imported.” (Various taxes had been enacted in 1862 to finance Union efforts in the Civil War.)
“Our goods are sold by all first-class Grocers,” the Kuner Pickle Company boasted in an ad published in Colorado Springs’ Daily Gazette on April 19, 1885. Among its products was prepared mustard.
The Herald and Torch Light in Hagerstown, Maryland on May 26, 1887, carried an ad showing that Wittich Prepared Mustard was for sale at Roulette’s, touted as an upscale grocery store.
The Arcade listed its specials in the June 5, 1898 edition of the Decatur, Ill. Daily Review. They included “Mason Pint Jar full Good Quality Prepared Mustard, worth 15c” being sold for 3-cents, and “Sherman’s Prepared Mustard, picnic size, worth 5c,” on sale for a penny.
By the turn of the century, prepared mustard had become a common item in dry goods stores.
What U.S. company marketed the first prepared mustard? That, too, is “lost in the mists of time.”
It does appear that the earliest prepared mustard in the United States which was commercially distributed and is still on the market nationally is—well, I’ll save that for next week.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company