Thursday, August 10, 2006
Canned Baked Beans Become a ‘Freak’ in Late 1870s
By ROGER M. GRACE
Disregarding the unsubstantiated though oft-parroted claim by the megacorp ConAgra that canned Van Camp beans were sold to the U.S. government for use by soldiers during the Civil War, the question emerges as to when canned beans did, actually, become available.
“Canned baked beans is the latest Yankee freak,” an advertisement in the May 25, 1877 issue of the Chester (Pa.) Daily Times claimed. Back then, the term “freak” meant “whim” or “fancy.”
About a year-and-half later—on Dec. 19, 1878—the same newspaper carried this item:
“Among the novelties now put up are baked beans, fish and clam chowder, and the latest of all are fish balls. Beans were first canned as an experiment about a year and a half ago, and some few have been sold in England. The ‘fish balls and baked beans’ were exhibited at the Paris Exhibition, and a great many orders resulted. There have been rumors among the trade that a large contract was secured at Paris from a foreign government (the French) for the supply of the army, but the company manufacturing deny this. Tbe product received a gold medal at Paris. The works, which are entirely new, are being run to tbe fullest capacity, and 500 dozen cans of fish balls and baked beans are being made daily.”
That would place the onset of the canning of baked beans around the spring of 1877. That’s consistent with this recital in the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Daily Gazette on Sept. 28, 1881:
“It is said that the suggestion that baked, beans could, be canned to advantage came from a Colorado dealer in that line of goods, who predicted that they would meet with ready sale in the West. This was in the spring of 1877 and in Boston. The Boston man seized the idea, and the first order was for 20 cases. It is said that 200,000 cans were marketed before the close of that year.”
The oldest ad for canned baked beans I could locate appeared on Nov. 9, 1877 in Augusta, Maine’s Daily Kennebec Journal, mentioning that the North End Fish Market had “BOSTON CANNED BAKED BEANS” for sale.
On Dec. 6, 1877, an ad in the Defiance (Ohio) Democrat, placed by local business Cary & Carroll’s, listed these goods (including port and beans) as being available:
“We have Cross & Blackwell’s CHOW-CHOW, Picalilly, Mixed Pickles and Onions. Lee & Perine’s [sic] Worcester Sauce, Halford Sauce, Club Sauce, Olive Oil, Tomato Catsup, French Mustard, &c. CANNED MEATS, such as Corned Beef, Salmon, Club Fish, Sardines, Lobster, Pork and Beans, Cove Oysters, &c.”
An ad in the Warren (Ind.) Ledger on Dec. 12, 1877 listed “Canned Baked Beans” among the “fancy groceries” at Wm. Messner’s, an establishment that held itself out as a specialist in canned goods.
Baked beans have somehow lost the image of being a “fancy” grocery item.
Among the canned baked beans on the market were those of W.K. Lewis & Brothers, of Boston. The product spread quickly to distant points. An ad appearing in the Galveston (Texas) Daily News on Feb. 23, 1878 announced that three-pound cans of they beans were being “Sold by All First Class Grocers in Galveston.”
Had it not been for Lewis, the baked bean “freak” would not have occurred in the late 1870s. A Gettysburg, Pa., newspaper, the Star and Sentinel, noted on Aug. 21, 1888 that “W. K. Lewis of Boston received the first patent for canning beans, in 1877.”
Lewis had gone broke as a pickle dealer in Boston in 1875, being able to pay creditors only 50 cents on the dollar, according to news accounts of the time, but apparently rebounded because he knew his beans.
A Nov. 25, 1881 article in the Bismarck (North Dakota) Tribune observed that the “canning of vegetables is a subject of vital interest to every man, woman and child in the territory.” In what appears to be an advertisement in the guise of a news aricle, it represented that Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman “has expressed his regret that he did not have CANNED BAKED BEANS of the ‘Bean Pot’ brand on his march from Atlanta to the sea.”
The maker of that brand was Henry Mayo & Co., located in Boston. The article noted that the manufacturing took place pursuant to the W.K. Lewis patent.
Henry Mayo & Co.’s bean canning operations—to be discussed next week—went into full gear in May, 1878.
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