the first american convenience foods -- 3/22/21

Today's selection -- from Charles E. Hires and the Drink That Wowed a Nation: The Life and Times of a Philadelphia Entrepreneur by Bill Double. The late 1800s saw a proliferation of foods offered to bring convenience to homemakers -- Van Camp’s baked beans, Borden’s condensed milk, Campbell’s soup, Quaker Oats, and more:

"Hires envisioned his root tea not as a bottled beverage or a soda fountain drink but as a home brew. He was bent on produc­ing a 'convenience food,' although that term had not yet been coined. He sought to relieve housewives of the labor of foraging for roots, herbs, and bark with an easily prepared extract that would yield a drink of consistent flavor and quality. The goal, as Hires later described it, was 'to produce a pure herb drink which would be entirely neutral in its effects.' The resulting beverage would contain 'the right combination of roots and herbs to pro­duce flavor that would please at the moment and also send the customer back for more.'

"Hires had plenty of company in his efforts to make the lives of the nation's housewives less burdensome. Improvements in food technology and distribution were beginning to liberate women from centuries of domestic drudgery. No longer would they be required to roast and grind coffee beans or spend hours producing soap, cheese, butter, or pickles at home. As the nine­teenth century progressed, an increasing variety of prepared staples was becoming available in stores. Innovators like Hires rolled out a cornucopia of products that would become main­stays of the country's diet. America was beginning to transition from a nation of producers into a nation of consumers.

"Gilbert Van Camp's baked beans and Borden's condensed milk had become favorites of Civil War troops during the 1860s. Im­provements in commercial canning were making soup and other processed foods increasingly available. In 1869 Joseph Campbell and his partner began producing preserves and canned vegetables in Camden, New Jersey. Their business would become the Camp­bell Soup Co. following their introduction of condensed soups in convenient cans. Libby's precooked 'corned beef' debuted in 1875 snugly packed in a trapezoidal container. Tomato ketchup, one of the earliest of H. J. Heinz's '57 Varieties,' would be intro­duced alongside Hires Root Beer at the Centennial Exposition in 1876. Quaker Oats was registered as a trademark in 1877. The following year Dr. John H. Kellogg invented a multigrain bis­cuit that he crumbled and named 'Granola.' He also produced peanut butter to enable patients with poor teeth to consume nuts. By the end of the decade, Harley Procter of Cincinnati, Ohio, was marketing a buoyant white bar he would later brand as 'Ivory Soap.' About the same time, Milton S. Hershey, who had prospered in the caramel business, branched out to produce chocolate in wrapped bars that retailed for a nickel apiece.

"The growing popularity of prepared food products is reflect­ed in an analysis of magazine food advertising in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Ads for ready-to-use staples -- soups, cookies, salad dressing, canned vegetables, and so on -- increased significantly while the advertising of ingredients needed for cooking from scratch, such as flour and sugar, declined."



Bill Double


Charles E. Hires and the Drink That Wowed a Nation: The Life and Times of a Philadelphia Entrepreneur


Temple University Press


Copyright 2018 by William G. Double


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment