Thursday, April 7, 2005
Sold at First Door-to-Door, Jell-O Gained Success
By ROGER M. GRACE
What do Jell-O and Jack Daniel’s Kentucky Whisky have in common?
Answer: both won gold medals at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
That’s the fair at which French’s Mustard was not—contrary to a claim only recently abandoned by the mustard-maker—teamed with the hot dog.
But enough about mustard. Pull up a Jack Daniel’s, and read the first installment on Jell-O.
A May 21, 1908 trademark application for Jell-O listed March, 1897 as the date Jell-O entered commerce. That’s when Pearle B. Wait, a carpenter and manufacturer of cough medicine in LeRoy, New York, started marketing a fruit-flavored gelatin dessert, which was dubbed “Jell-O” by his wife, Mary.
The marketing consisted of door-to-door sales.
Jell-O was then, as it is now, a powder which, when combined with hot water and allowed to set, produced a gelatin dessert. That is not a concept attributable to Wait. It was Peter Cooper who came up with the idea, obtaining a patent on the process in 1845. (Cooper also was the inventor of America’s first steam locomotive; the prototype, the “Tom Thumb,” on its trial run in 1830 attained the then-astounding speed of 18 miles per hour. Cooper founded The Cooper Union in New York, a tuition-free institution of higher learning.)
Cooper, who owned a glue company, did sell gelatin (a substance made from animal bones and tissues) for industrial purposes. However, it appear that no effort was made by him to commercially exploit his dessert powder. Housewives continued to buy sheets of prepared gelatin, which had to be clarified by boiling or soaking them. The goo was then strained, and flavoring and coloring added.
Wait’s marketing efforts were ill starred, and he sold his venture on Sept. 9, 1899, to a neighbor, Orator Francis Woodward, for $450.
Woodward was already in the food business. His line of products included Grain-O, a roasted cereal beverage used as a coffee substitute.
In 1900, Woodward’s corporation, the Genesee Pure Food
Company, launched wide-scale newspaper advertising for Jell-O. An ad in the
March 6 issue of the Warren, Pa. Evening Democrat read:
In 1902, a Jell-O ad appeared in a national magazine, the Ladies’ Home Journal, with the product touted as “America’s Most Famous Dessert.”
Jell-O and Jell-O Ice Cream Powder were promoted through demonstrations of the product in stores and the give-away of recipe books—as reflected in this portion of an ad for a general store that appeared in the Syracuse, New York Post Standard on Sept. 10, 1904:
It was in 1904 that chocolate and cherry flavors were added. Peach Jell-O came in 1907.
Flavors have come and gone. Chocolate Jell-O was discontinued in 1927. Cola Jell-O was introduced in 1942 but was abandoned after about a year. Lime Jell-O (popular for use in making Jell-O salads) debuted in 1930. The late start in manufacturing lime Jell-O is ironic; Cooper’s 1845 patent application specified lemon, or lime as an alternative, as the fruit flavoring.
Nowadays, there are 18 flavors: apricot, berry blue, black cherry, cherry, cranberry, cranberry-raspberry, grape, pineapple, lemon lime, mixed fruit, orange, peach, raspberry, strawberry, strawberry-banana, strawberry-kiwi and wild strawberry.
Next week, a look at Jello-O’s competitors.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company
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