Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, August 17, 2006


Page 11



Cans of Baked Beans Produced On Mass Scale in 1878




The name “Henry Mayo & Co.” is not apt to draw a speck of recognition today. It’s a long defunct enterprise. Yet, had it not been for its confidence that a contract that had been promised to it would be signed, it might well be a major company.

It was that outfit that was the nation’s first major producer of baked beans in cans (despite Van Camp’s current claim to that distinction.) Its production started in May of 1878.

An article in the New York Times on Jan. 17, 1879 explained that these canning operations were conducted under the name “Grocers’ Packing Company,” a fictitious name of the firm of Henry Mayo & Co., the principles of which were W.W. Treat and M.S. Mayo. Henry Mayo, himself, had died in 1875.

The Indiana (Penn.) Progress on Dec. 12, 1878 observed, referring to the Mayo operation, that “a Boston company are turning out 8,000 cans, equal to 24,000 pounds, of baked beans and codfish balls daily, and that it finds a large demand for both specialties in England, France, West Indies and South America.”

The company experienced a severe set-back, however. According to the New York Times article, it had sent cans of beans, as well as cans of codballs, to the World’s Fair in Paris in the summer of 1878, resulting in orders from the French government for “100,000 dozen cases, amounting to $450,000.” France wanted the vittles for its Navy.

The Mayo Co. was assured in a cable that a contract would be executed. It cranked up its machinery, and went into production night and day to be able to fill the order. The order was rescinded, however, and the company had more canned goods on hand than it could sell…that is, more liabilities than assets.

The company endured, for a time. It engaged in national advertising, and gained name recognition, but in 1884, went into the hands of its creditors.

Van Camp’s “Boston Baked Beans Prepared with Tomato Sauce” appears to have gone on the market no earlier than 1882, as previous columns have discussed. That product became the subject of heavy advertising in 1885.

“Heinz’s Baked Beans With Tomato Sauce” was a product widely advertised as of 1886.

Neither Van Camp nor Heinz produced baked beans prepared in the traditional New England manner…which came to be associated, in particular, with Boston. Their sauce was tomato-based rather than relying on molasses and/or brown sugar.

As competition among baked bean-makers heightened, this Van Camp ad appeared in the Daily News in Frederick, Maryland on March 23, 1896:

“Cheap Pork and Beans prepared in Tomato Sauce, so called, contain acid coloring matter, turn sour, are poorly cooked, cheaply packed and are dear at any price. Van Camp’s is sold under a gold guarantee. They cost you nothing unless satisfactory.”

Before the turn of the century, other producers of canned beans included Armour and Company of Chicago, founded in 1867 as a slaughterhouse. The company found it profitable to process and sell by-products. “Armour’s Star Brand Baked Pork and Beans” was of the tomato sauce kind. It was on the market until the 1950s.

The Armour brand now belongs to Pinnacle Foods, and ConAgra licenses the name in producing various foods under that label. While it does not make Armour baked beans, it does market a hot chili with beans.

A Sept, 2, 1899 ad in Placerville, Calif.’s Mountain Democrat shows that Libby McNeil & Libby’s baked beans were available in this state. They were on sale for half price, at 5 cents a can. ConAgra markets a few products under the Libby’s label—not including baked beans. Van Camp beans are a major ConAgra product.

While no cans of baked beans are now produced in Boston, there are two major brands of Boston-style baked beans on the national market: Bush’s (which goes back only to 1948 and became a national product in recent years) and B&M’s (which harks to 1927). Campbell’s, which has made baked beans in tomato sauce since 1904, recently introduced “Campbell’s Baked Beans With Brown Sugar & Bacon,” apparently intent on capitalizing on the surprise success of Bush’s product.

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