Henry John Heinz wasn’t the first ketchup maker to drop vinegar and tomatoes into their recipes. James Mease, in 1812, published a formula for the table sauce made with tomatoes along with brandy and vinegar.
However, Heinz became one of the few processed food makers of his day to insist on using high-quality ingredients that customers could spot while still on the shelf.
This clear glass Heinz ketchup bottle, nominated as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure by CAP Curator Rachel Lovelace-Portal, dates from 1918 to 1943. The bottle’s labels advertise ketchup that is pure, made from fresh, ripe tomatoes and is free of artificial colors and preservatives. Pittsburgh-based H. J. Heinz Company would become one of the largest processed food companies in America, ranking No. 30 on Forbes’ List of Largest Private Companies.
The history of the Heinz Company and its products are deeply rooted in Pennsylvania. The company was founded by Henry John Heinz, a native of Sharpsburg, PA. From a young age, Henry exhibited the attributes of the businessman he would eventually become. He helped his mother sell excess produce from the family garden. At 14 years old, Heinz assumed the role of assistant manager at his father’s brickyard. He sold horseradish, a popular condiment in mid-19th century, which his mother prepared.
In 1869, Henry and L. Clarence Noble founded the Anchor Pickle and Vinegar Works. The company produced horseradish, celery sauce, pickles and vinegar. The partners soon changed the name to Heinz, Noble, & Company. The company failed in 1875, following the financial panic of 1873. This did not deter Heinz. He opened a new business, F. & J. Heinz Company on Feb. 6, 1876 with his brother John and cousin Frederick. The product line of this company included ketchup.
Early processed foods often spoiled quickly and did not always contain pure ingredients. Heinz knew this and made purity and quality a high priority. Much of the ketchup on the market at the time contained coal tar and sodium benzoate. Heinz made his ketchup with ripe tomatoes and spices including cloves, cinnamon and cayenne. He used vinegar as a preservative instead of sodium benzoate. To encourage customers to buy Heinz products, the company used clear bottles so the ingredients could be clearly seen.
Heinz’s belief in purity, quality and wholesomeness extended beyond his products and advertising campaigns and into his political life and working conditions for his employees. He became an influential lobbyist for the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which prohibited processed food companies from adding harmful preservatives to their products. Heinz also provided his workers with clean working conditions and dressing rooms, a restaurant and a weekly manicure.
Today, Heinz manufactures the most popular ketchup in America, selling 650 million bottles each year.
About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.