The apparatus described here was patented in 1873. What does it do?
“Copper tubing surrounded by steam heat confined by a wooden jacket obtains the desired temperature ... a wooden propeller at one end of the tubing provides movement.” Movement of the steam we presume.
Even the name of the machine, the Merrell Gun Cooker, doesn’t go far in its use but back in the 1870s it was revolutionary in the canning industry, specifically in the canning of corn.
Canning of vegetables and fruits had begun slowly several years before the Civil War Technology advanced more rapidly during the 1860s so that nearly everything was being “tinned.” When the Boys in Blue and Gray returned to the Home Front, they demanded the convenience of canned foods.
Gaius Lewis Merrell of Gun Cooker fame was a farm boy from the state of New York who left home to go to the big city of Syracuse to make his living. He was an inventive sort who spent every spare minute he could at the public library reading books on physics and chemistry, this just at the close of the War in 1865.
After but two to three years he became a partner in a canning factory that packaged everything from pickles to nuts. He came to the attention of a shrewd businessman, Oscar Soule, who offered him some capital towards a canning plant that specialized in canning corn. They named it “Onondagoa” for the renowned Indian chief of that name during the War of 1812. The local hero surely would promote the product.
Merrell was fascinated with the prospect of perfecting or rather improving the canning of corn which was a tedious process that involved, believe it or not, the sealing of the can, cooking a short time then removing it from the cooking bath and opening the tin to remove the steam from it. It was resealed by soldering it and recooking it another time. Merrell thought the process could be shortened.
Others quickly adapted the process and with the time shortened, the product could come to the store shelves at a cheaper price. “The American Grocer,” a trade publication, reported that in 1873 the price of a dozen two pound cans of corn sold for $2.20 to $2.90. Just a few years before the same number and weight cost $3.25 wholesale. Think of the savings the merchant could pass on to the buyer. Merrell and Soule didn’t stop there. Merrell had married Mary Antoinette Seward shortly after arriving in Syracuse. It probably wasn’t part of her dowry, but she brought with her to the marriage her grandmother Seward’s recipe for mincemeat, a popular edible in that day and long after. Merrell opted to package it.
Besides the mincemeat, the company added a line of dietetic foods with Merrell working tirelessly to develop a powder made of dried milk that took seemingly endless hours of experimentation. The line included not only the dried milk powder but other foods for infants and invalids the most famous (and familiar) brand M&S put out was None-Such ... None-Such Pumpkin Squash, None-Such Soups and the still popular None Such Mincemeat.
None-Such is defined as Nothing like it, none better and certainly None-Such Mincemeat can brag about that. Once it was sold only in small packages of condensed mixture to which water was added and cooked for the pie. Now, however, it comes in ready-for-use ... Adding orange juice to the condensed version makes it too moist, None-Such people.
The None-Such Mincemeat and Klim product were trained by Merrell and Soule after selling most of their other lines but eventually the Borden Co. bought those products. None-Such brand is a reliable and traditional name, one of the few that has persisted from the past, one of the few.
Today most of our store shelves are packed with “New and Improved.” They either have some magic ingredient or an opener that prevents you from getting it open—ever! Blaring at us from the television or swamping the disposal bins from the newspapers or mailbox, ads deluge our daily life. Well, the marketers have to earn their keep by showing the boss they are working in some way ... Changing the package or product. Some things need to stay the same. Like None-Such. There are a few products from the past that we still recognize by their decades old brand name. Thank goodness! One of the most familiar from long ago is Heinz, the ketchup people with their “57 Varieties.” Henry Heinz didn’t really have fifty-seven products. He just liked the two numbers ... Five and seven. Eventually in fact, the Heinz Company had three thousand foods they packaged in that name.
Mr. Heinz did experiment with tomatoes time and again to get the right taste and consistency for a ketchup but that wasn’t the first food item he put on the shelf using his name. It was horseradish. Perhaps, it was the Pennsylvania Dutch background as he grew up that prompted him to choose a ketchup but that wasn’t the first food item he put on the shelf using his name. It was horseradish. Perhaps, it was the Pennsylvan ... The Pennsylvania Dutch had a tradition of “Seven sweets and seven sours” on their table and maybe that was the market he was seeking. After all, horseradish with its potent root that needed grinding in a tearful manner would be much more convenient if purchased, or so Heinz thought, eh? He also did something bold in the way of presenting it ... He bottled it in clear glass jars instead of the colored ones other companies used ... That way they could add cheap ingredients to stretch the horseradish by using a “filler” such as turnips.
Tomato ketchup, while a best seller, came second in his 57 varieties!
Production began in 1876. H.J. Heinz demanded the original recipe be followed exactly forever after. It’s still a big seller because the company name has taught us they can be relied upon.
Some products aren’t made by their original organizations but by corporate giants of other types but we may yet buy by the name brand. Wheaties. Who could ask for anything more? The “Breakfast of Champions,” it is still called as it beckons from the shelf. It came about, however, by mistake, just as Ivory Soap years before.
Some wheat bran had been spilled on a stove and not wiped up. It gradually toasted into crisp, appealing flakes that called for them to be tasted. Yum! A breakfast treat was born that became so well-known that Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy and Wheaties became synonymous. For over seventeen years Jack was the main character in a radio serial by that name. With his friends, Betty and Billy Fairfield and their uncle, Uncle Jim Fairfield, they traveled the globe finding adventure, learning new things that not only taught listeners interesting ideas but how to be honest and brave and to help others. All while eating Wheaties.
Corn flakes developed in much the same manner ... By mistake.
The two Kellogg brothers, John and Will, were strict proponents of a vegetarian diet. Their father was a pioneer in the Seventh Day Adventists, a religious sect that ate no meat, following vegetarianism. They searched constantly for healthful menus that appealed to adherents who came to the little town of Battle Creek, Michigan where Dr. John Kellogg had a sanitorium where all sorts of measures were applied to patients to keep them well forever! Some were questionable.
Will Kellogg experimented with all sorts of foods, the results of which were Kellogg’s Breakfast Health Foods.”
A batch of wheat bran was left on the stove by mistake also in Kellogg’s kitchen, a large single “pie” that toasted a rich brown. It was so appealing, too, that the idea occurred to the “cooks” to run it through a roller which flaked it into crisp pieces, flakes that were a new idea. Desiring corn flakes however, cooked corn was attempted and was successful. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes became a best seller, too. And still are. The pictures of those containers are from “Products from the Past by George Fichter printed in part in probably “Country Living” although no attribution is found. The Wheaties container was used in 1932 while the Corn Flakes box as an original type put out in 1898.
Kellogg or General Mills, other cereal brands, are familiar to us and are a part of our history, believe it or not. Tradition and change make up our world and both have their place. As the television channel promotes, “History is Made Everyday.” And in many ways.