Life Was Good? The American Plate 1950 – 1959

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Author: Sally J. Feltner, M.S.,PhD

An Attack on Gastronomy

The 1950’s brought a renewed hope for the country after two decades of Depression and War. However, food historians deplore the state of the cuisine during this period – it mainly consisted of processed foods which many blame for this anti-gastronomic desert. In addition, the rise of the fast food industry, i.e. hamburger chains that sprouted up along side the newly build national highway system did not offer any better fare. Freeing Mom from the kitchen seemed to be the dominant theme as appliances and prepared foods became the ‘norm”.

TV Dinners

After WWII, America’s economy boomed, women entered the workforce as never before and food got a little strange. Housewives spent less time in the kitchen, so food companies came to the rescue with a buffet of processed foods. Foods were purchased in a can, package or pouch. Soups were available as liquids or in dry form. Tang landed on supermarket shelves and frozen dinners laid on trays in front of TV sets. TV dinners were introduced in 1953 by Swanson and with a flick of a wrist you could turn back the foil to display turkey in gravy, dressing, sweet potatoes and peas ready in about 30 minutes – all with no dishes to wash.

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Better Living Through Chemistry

“Better Living through Chemistry” was the slogan of the times along with “I like Ike” referring to the popular Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 5-star general from WWII winning the U.S presidency from 1953 to 1961.
This change in processing came from the demand of the Army during WWII to provide needed ready-to-eat meals. The food industry responded by ramping up new technologies in canning and freeze-drying to feed the troops. The marketing of these foods presented a challenge, however. At first, many of them were less than palatable, so food companies hired home economists to develop fancy recipes and flooded magazines, newspapers and TV with ads to broadcast their virtues. Actually the first cake mix was available in 1931, but was met with disdain due to the use of dehydrated eggs, e.g. Women later would respond more favorably if they could crack their own eggs into the batter so they would feel like they were doing something positive in the kitchen.

June Cleaver

People rushed to buy appliances, houses, cars, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers and backyard barbecue grills and new home freezers.  They also bought television sets in record numbers and watched shows that represented their new idealized lives like Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver. Beaver’s mother, June Cleaver was depicted as a housewife freed from household chores and often was serene and perfectly dressed with pearls and high heels pushing a vacuum cleaner and putting meals on the family table, all before solving the family problems.

Fast Food Nation

The birth rate soared and created what is known as the Baby Boomer Generation. Fifty million babies were born from 1945 to 1960. Food marketing shifted to kids with Tony the Tiger and fish sticks leading the campaign. Fast food had its beginnings strengthened in 1955 when Ray Kroc bought a hamburger stand from the McDonald’s brothers in San Bernadino, California. Disneyland opened in 1955 and was so popular they ran out of food on the first day.

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The Seven Countries Study

In 1958, the American scientist, Ancel Keys started a study called the Seven Countries Study, which attempted to establish the association between diet and cardiovascular disease in different countries. The study results indicated that in the countries where fat consumption was the highest also had the most heart disease. This suggested the idea that dietary fat caused heart disease. He initially studied 22 countries, but reported on only seven: Finland, Greece, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, United States, and Yugoslavia.

The problem was that he left out:

  • Countries where people eat a lot of fat but have little heart disease, such as Holland and Norway and France.
  • Countries where fat consumption is low but the rate of heart disease is high, such as Chile.

Basically, he only used data from the countries that supported his theory.
This flawed observational study gained massive media attention and had a major influence on the dietary guidelines of the next few decades, i.e. cut the fat out of our diets.

 

sevencountries

The First Artificial Sweetener

In the diet world, Saccharin was manufactured in granules and became a popular sugar substitute for dieters. It was first produced in 1878 by a chemist at Johns Hopkins University, but became popular after sugar shortages in WWI and WWII. In the United States, saccharin is often found in restaurants in pink packets as “Sweet’n Low”. It was banned later but it remains on the market today. The basis for the proposed ban was a study that documented an increase in cancer in rats being fed saccharin. The “Delaney clause” of the Food Additive Amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act states that no substance can be deemed safe if it causes cancer in humans or animals. In suspending the proposed saccharin ban, Congress ordered that products containing the popular sweetener must carry a warning about its potential to cause cancer. The FDA formally lifted its proposal to ban the sweetener in 1991 based on new studies, and the requirement for a label warning was eliminated by the Saccharin Notice Repeal Act in 1996.

TIMELINE: 

1951 I Love Lucy debuts on CBS.

1952 The Lipton food company rolls out its dehydrated onion soup that will earn it fame as a base for onion soup mix: 2 envelopes of mix plus 1 cup of sour cream. Lipton eventually prints the recipe, “California Dip” on the package.

1953 Eggo Frozen Waffles are introduced.

1954 Employee Gerry Thomas from the C.A. Swanson Co,  has an idea (although fellow workers nearly laughed him out of the Omaha  plant): package the left-over turkey, along with some dressing, gravy, cornbread, peas and sweet potatoes into a partitioned metal tray, sell it frozen, and consumers could heat it up for dinner. His name for the leftover meal: TV Dinner.

1954 The first Burger King  opens in Miami. A burger is 18 cents, as is a milkshake. The Whopper is introduced in 1957 and sells for 37 cents.

1955 Milkshake-machine salesman, Roy Kroc tries to persuade Dick and Mac McDonald (owner of the original McDonalds in California) to franchise their concept.  They aren’t interested but  tell Kroc to go ahead and try his hand. Kroc opens his first restaurant in Des Plains, ILL., and eventually buys out the McDonalds.

1956 Jif Peanut Butter is introduced.

1956 More than 80 percent of U.S. households have refrigerators. By contrast, only 8 percent of British households have refrigerators.

1957 Better Homes and Gardens prints its first microwave-cooking article.

1957 Margarine sales take the lead over butter.

1958 Eighteen- year-old Frank Carney sees a story in the Saturday Evening Post about the pizza fad among teenagers and college students. With $600 borrowed from his mother, he and his fellow Wichita State classmate, opens the first Pizza Hut in Wichita, KS.

 

Dining Through the Decades: 1930’s

Stock Market Woes: The Depression

The Great Depression affected the U.S. more than other industrialized countries. Unemployment affected many including the middle class. Many people lost their homes, ate garbage and food scraps and lived in empty lots or in shacks made of cardboard.

The Great Depression lasted for most of the 1930 decade forcing people to conserve food and come up with innovative ways to limit food waste and making do with less. Popular dishes of the period were inexpensive, one-pot meals such as macaroni and cheese, chili, casseroles of all sorts. To maintain the illusion of an abundance of beef, meat loaf was stretched to its limit with filler. Accompaniments were usually inexpensive vegetables such as carrots, peas and potatoes. Others on the other hand, city dwellers were surviving on cheap meals of hot dogs and hamburgers at automats that had survived since their inception in the 1920s.

More Americans are hungry or ill fed than ever before in the nation’s history. The usual weekly relief check for a family of five in NYC is $6.00 in May, and the average weekly grant in Philadelphia that month is reduced  to $4.39. Philadelphia’s relief funds will soon five will soon give out completely, leaving 57,000 families with no means of support.

The average U.S. weekly wage falls to $17, down from $28 in 1929, and 28 percent of households have no employed worker. U.S. employment reaches between 15 and 17 million by year’s end, 34 million Americans have no income of any kind and Americans who do work average little more than $16 per week.

 

 “Saint” Al Capone? and Soup Kitchen

Private soup kitchens and bread lines were available for those in need. Ironically, the gangster Al Capone set up the first soup kitchen to paint himself as the “savior of Chicago”. However, they still sent him to jail for tax evasion. Accepting charity in those days was seen as shameful, so people did not relish standing in line for food and often hid their faces from public view. In 1930, New York has 83 breadlines, Philadelphia 80. Small towns in Arkansas and Oklahoma have food riots with hungry crowds shouting “We want food!” ” We will not let our children starve.”

The Ice Age

The most influential appliance during this decade was most likely the refrigerator. Until its appearance, people kept food from spoiling in streams, cellars, snow and ice. Food poisoning in the warmer months was rampant. The ice box was commonly used since the 1800’s. Harvested and cut ice was hauled home to home on a horse-drawn cart and put in the family’s icehouse where it lasted for months. City dwellers would place a card in the window to order their ice for delivery from the iceman.

By 1920, there were some 200 different refrigerator models on the market, but they were not for everybody, if anyone. The motors were so large that they were kept in a different room and cost about $700. The coolants were a problem that often leaked and killed people. In 1930, Frigidaire began cooling with chlorofluorocarbons and people began to use the small machines with more frequency. Before the refrigerator, “frozen desserts and frozen salads were nonexistent or just for wealthy people” wrote Sylvia Lovegren, author of Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads. By 1937, more than 2 million Americans owned refrigerators.

Stuckey’s and Route 66

Williamson George ? Stuckey was born in Georgia in 1909. In 1929 he dropped out of college for lack of funds and in 1930 his grandmother loaned him $35. and with this money, he began buying and selling Georgia pecans. In 1936 he built a roadside stand on a two-lane highway in Eastman, Georgia. There he sold his pecans and later added pralines made by his wife, Ethyl. The first Stuckey’s Pecan Shoppe opened in Eastman, Georgia in 1937, selling pecan and praline products. Later he sold souvenirs, food and beverage service and much later gas pumps. By 1964, there were 160 stores and by 2002 Stuckey’s had two hundred franchises in nineteen states from Pennsylvania to Florida along interstate highways and travel plazas.

“When U.S. Highway 66 was completed in 1938, it became a vital 2,450 mile artery between Chicago and Los Angeles through eight states. It traveled along routes that did not bypass many rural communities in an effort to link them more with larger metropolitan areas. Thus, farmers had a pipeline to ship their food to the big cities. Along the route, it provided gas stations, motels, and quick-stop stores like Stuckeys to take care of the traveler’s needs.

Chain restaurants like Steak and Shake first served its steakburgers, milk shakes and shoestring french fries in 1934 in Normal, Illinois. As more Steak n’ Shake restaurants opened along the route, customers were happy to see a familiar name in an unfamiliar location, much like present day McDonalds along many interstate highways. You could see those Golden Arches somewhere in the distant along many of the unpopulated areas they served.” Bon Appetit, September, 1999.

The Dust Bowl: Agriculture Gone Wrong

The dust storms that terrorized America’s High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were nothing like ever seen before. Timothy Egan has written a compelling  book, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. The book graphically depicts a gritty piece of forgotten history.

In 1935, Western dust storms in May blow some 300 million tons of Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma topsoil into the Atlantic. At least 30 million acres lose all their topsoil, another 50 million are almost ruined, and 200 million are seriously damaged. The Western dust storms are an aftermath of imprudent plowing during the Great War, when farmers planted virgin lands in wheat to cash in on high grain prices. The dust storms were so severe that they stopped highway traffic, closed schools, and turned day into night. “Oakies” and “Arkies” from the dust bowl begin a trek to California that will take 350,000 farmers west within the next 5 years. The description of one of the worst days named Black Sunday (April 14, 1935) was heartbreaking. “it took an hour for the Black Sunday duster to travel from the border towns to Amarillo. At 7:20 P.M, the biggest city in the Texas Panhandle went  dark, and its 42,000 residents choked on the same thick mass that had begun to roll in the Dakotas, clawing the barren plains, charring the sky in five states, producing static electricity to power New York, a fury that has never been duplicated” Source: The Worst Hard Tiime, Timothy Egan.

“The high plains never fully recovered from the Dust Bowl. The land came through the 1930’s deeply scarred and forever changed. After more that sixty-five years, some of the land is still sterile and drifting. The Indians never returned, despite New Deal attempts to buy range land for natives. The Comanche live on a small reservation near Lawton, Oklahoma”

America’s Greatest Treasure U.S. News and World Report

The hamburger’s origin is fraught with controversy as where exactly it evolved; some historians even  trace it back to Genghis Kahn’s Mongolian warriors  in the 13th century. Most offer more reasonable explanations that relates it to a seasoned ground beef dish popular in Hamburg, Germany in the early 1800’s. Americans like to attribute it to at least four credible creation ideas that involve Connecticut, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Texas. It’s prominence was associated early on to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. But after that, its history fades. In 1921, it makes its presence again with the advent the first burger chain, White Castle in Wichita, Kansas that drew many imitators in the fast food business.

Americans have always had a taste for a sandwich and for meat – this satisfied both of those. Since it came wrapped in a bun with lettuce, meat and tomatoes, it fit the definition of a “meal” and a convenient portable one at that. There are other advantages – it comes with many creative with culinary construction. These are often under the supervision of a chef or a short-order cook. In a book by food writer, John Edge.  Hamburgers & Fries he writes: 

“Finding the right diner, and a burger isn’t just a meal – it’s dinner and a show. Dressed up or down, or tarted up with foie gras or truffles, ‘what we are left with is an abiding respect for the basic burger’.

Post Prohibition

America’s drinking habits did change during the prohibition age of the 20’s but not deterred. Home drinking became more prevalent and more women participated in the habit than ever before. Bar tenders found a niche at the patron’s favorite speakeasies and were put on the same level as master chefs. While Rural America and the temperance movement applauded its inception cleaning up the nation’s crime and brothel-infested cities, in the cities even the cops had grown accustomed to ducking into some saloons after work and enforcement was spotty. By 1928, the NYPD had counted nearly 32,000 speak-easies. Liquor quality was stretched as owners stretched Canadian whiskey with water and food coloring and home brewers produced crude – and sometimes toxic – bathtub gin.

It is likely that Prohibition’s most lasting damage was damage to the cocktail culture was the closure of America’s premier hotel bars. Some bartenders had become famous by inventing new drinks with fresh ingredients and embarking on international tours to London or Capri. Those so inclined complain that bartenders still haven’t recovered their pre-20’s artistry.

All in all, the results of prohibition had not produced the desired cultural results as expected by society – actually it was a big mistake.

TIDBITS and TRIVIA

Vitamin D is isolated as calciferol and will soon be used to fortify butter, margarine, and other foods. There are few natural food sources for this fat-soluble vitamin. This saves a lot of children from the dreaded cod liver oil, a common source of vitamin D given by parents. 1930

Hostess Twinkies are introduced by Continental Baking. A St. Louis sign advertising “Twinkle Toes Shoes” inspired the bakery manager, James A. Dewar at Chicago to call the cakes Twinkies. 1930

New York’s first White Castle hamburger stand opens with virtually no competition since its inception in 1921. Some restaurants serve them and hamburger sandwiches are sold also at carnivals, fairs, and amusement parks. Housewives who want to serve them to their families order top round or some other cuts of beef and ask the butcher to grind it for them. 1930

Physical culturist Bernarr MacFadden serves 1 cent meals called Penny Restaurants at his New York and Boston restaurants. 1931

Kraft rolls out Kraft Dinner – a boxed meal that sells for 19 cents with an advertising slogan of “A Meal for Four in Nine Minutes.” At the end of the century, 1 million boxes a day of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese are sold in the U.S. 1937

The diet movement picked up a little in the 1930’s. In 1930, the Hollywood Diet (aka the Grapefruit Diet) is introduced. The diet involves eating 585 calories a day for 18 days, only dining on grapefruit, hard boiled eggs, green vegetables and melba toast. Diet guru Victor Lindlahr inspires thousands of radio listeners to tune in to his regular broadcast, “reducing party”. 1936

The shopping cart makes its debut. 1937

Some 150 of the city’s dogs, augmented by a pet racoon and a Brazilian marmoset, took their mistresses and a few masters to a cocktail party at Jack Dempsey’s restaurant yesterday. It was all for a good cause, this first canine cocktail party in New York, for the Bide-A-Wee Home for destitute dogs received and estimated $300 from the proceeds. Predominant among the guests were Scotties and wire-haired terriors. The guests were exceptionally well-behaved, tirelessly posing and refraining from biting even one of the numerous photographers who keptThey confind flash bulbs popping. They confined their refreshments to cocktails of warm beef broth and canapes of minced meat and cottage cheese, tastefully stuffed in egg whites.”150 Dogs are Hosts at Cocktail Party”. New York Times, November 18, 1937.

Vitamin Frenzy:  Nicotinic acid (niacin is found to prevent pellagra. Enriched bread contains thiamine, Vitamin E is synthesized and found to be an effective antioxidant, vitamin A was found to prevent night blindness. 1938 

People began drinking again after 1933 and by the end of Franklin Roosevelt’s first year in office, all alcohol was legal again. The wine industry had suffered, and many had gone out of business or had been closed for thirteen years. In 1933, there were about 130 wineries left in California and 150 in the country down from 1,000 pre-Prohibition. Equipment rusted and casks rotted. The wine produced in 1934 so was terrible that it was often still fermenting when first shipped; some blew up on store shelves. All this affected the reputation of the quality of wine and it took decades to recover from it. 1939

Bon Appetit!

 

Epidemics and Pandemics: In 3 Acts

” Epidemics unfold as social dramas in three acts,” said by one man named Charles Rosenberg who found inspiration in Albert Camus’s La Peste.

Everyone should read this historical look at epidemics/pandemics of the past and what they tell us about their characteristics and outlooks. There are lessons here to learn and we hope that it is not too late to exercise many of these in our own current dilemma. It was written by David S. Jones and was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, March 12, 2020.

CLICK HERE.

 

Dining Through the Decades: 1900’s

Dining Through the Decades: 1900’s

No matter who we are or where we live, our lives revolve around food – a major part of our culture and traditions. This post is the first of a series that attempts to  briefly describe some of the major food-related events that occurred during each decade of 20th century America.

Just a sampling of some of the questions raised in future posts:

  • What was the first fast food restaurant?
  • What was  the first supermarket like?
  • Why is it  called a Caesar  Salad?
  • What was a victory garden?
  • Where was the first pizzaria?
  • How did the 1950’s change our food culture?

Enjoy and Bon Appetit!

How Cereal Changed the American Breakfast

John Harvey Kellogg was born in 1852 in Tyrone, Michigan and died at the age of 91 in Battle Creek, Michigan He graduated from New York University Medical College at Bellevue Hospital in 1875. He had one brother, Will Keith Kellogg.

He eventually became the director of the  Battle Creek Sanitarium, aka “the San” and its health principles were based on the Seventh Adventist Church including vegetarianism. Through the years, the San had many notable patients/guests that included former President, William Howard Taft, arctic explorers Stefansson and Amundsen, writer and broadcaster, Lowell Thomas, aviator Amelia Earhart, playwright George Bernard Shaw, athlete Johnny Weissmuller, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and actress Sarah Bernhardt.

Where Did Corn Flakes Come From?

While a medical student, Kellogg began to be aware of the need for ready-to-eat cereals. As part of the “Sans” menu, Kellogg and brother Will made several grain products by forcing wheat grain through rollers to make sheets of dough. One time, the dough seemed overcooked and the dough when flattened emerged as a flake.

Patients at the “San” loved the new cereal flakes, which Dr. Kellogg called Granose (a combination of “grain” and the scientific suffix “ose,”or metabolism). Will Kellogg, meanwhile, saw the opportunity to market the flakes to ordinary people looking for a light, healthy breakfast.

After years of growing conflicts with his brother—Will bought the rights to the flake cereal recipe and struck out on his own, founding the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company in 1906. Adding malt, sugar and salt to the dough, he began manufacturing Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in mass quantities. The rooster mascot on Kellogg’s cereal boxes is used because Will liked that the Welsh word for “rooster” (ceiliog) that sounded like his last name, Kellogg.

By 1909 Will’s company was churning out 120,000 cases of Corn Flakes a day. John Kellogg, who resented his brother’s success, later fought him for the right to use the family name. The resulting legal battle ended in 1920, when the Michigan State Supreme Court ruled in Will’s favor, due to his success at popularizing his now-ubiquitous product.

How cereal changed breakfast forever

By the time Will Kellogg entered the market, others had already begun to capitalize on the general public’s appetite for cereal. Among the most successful was C. W. Post, a one-time patient at the Battle Creek Sanitarium who adapted Kellogg’s cereal recipe into his own mass-produced version, Grape-Nuts, to tremendous success. A cut-throat competitor to Kellogg, Post even bought exclusive rights to manufacture the cereal-rolling machine needed in the cereal production process—equipment that Will Kellogg originally helped design.

The completion of the transcontinental railroad in the late 19th century created a mass market for Kellogg, Post and other newly recognizable packaged-food brands to ply their wares. Despite the sometimes outrageous claims made in their advertising (Post, for instance, claimed that Grape-Nuts cured everything from rickets to malaria), the growing variety of brand-name companies promised a certain level of quality and uniformity, especially as Americans began to consume processed foods in mass quantities for the first time.

With their irresistible combination of health claims and convenience, combined with the unique circumstances of the historical moment in which they emerged, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and other cereals would have a revolutionary impact on the American breakfast. “It was so easy compared to any other kind of breakfast,” you open a box, dump it in a bowl, pour some milk on it. You really can’t get much easier than that in the morning.” manufacturers said. Just look at the cereal aisle in the supermarket.

Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell

Before our more recent obesity epidemic occurred, weight gain did not seem to be on the minds of most people in 1900. Actually, increased body weight was associated with success, i.e., the plumper, the richer and more successful you were. In the 1900’s prosperity and wealth was envied, and America had an appetite for everything including food.

The phrase “Gilded Age” appears in the later 19th century and is often accompanied by pictures of obese men with bulging stomach over evening clothes draped with gold chains. Of them all, none was more flamboyant than the grand gourmand of his era, Diamond Jim Brady.  Diamond’s feeding bouts are the topic of legend, especially when he dined with his platonic friend, the incomparable American beauty and popular stage actress, Lillian Russell.

“Diamond Jim Brady”s  breakfast was eggs, breads, muffins, grits, pancakes, steaks, chops, fried potatoes, and a pitcher of orange juice.  For a snack midmorning, he ate two or three dozen oysters. His lunch (usually at New York’s Delmonicos was more oysters, clams, lobsters, a joint of meat, pie and more orange juice. Dinner was the main event with more oysters (three dozen), six or seven lobsters, terrapin soup, a steak, coffee, a tray of pastries, and two pounds of candy. Russell could and sometimes match him dish for dish, after shedding her corset . (The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink)

“The couple was not alone in their conspicuous display of caloric consumption. The New York Riding Club hosted a “horse dinner” in the fourth-floor ballroom of Louis Sherry’s restaurant. Horses were brought to the room in freight elevators, hitched to a large dining table, and fed oats while their riders ate fourteen-course dinners and sipped champagne out of bottles stashed in the saddle bags.”  The Century in Food: America’s Fads and Favorites, 2002, Beverly Bundy, pg 6.

Mr. Diamond died at age fifty-six, his stomach was said to be six times larger than the average man’s. Fittingly, he left the bulk of his estate to Johns Hopkins University.” Ms. Russell weighed 200 lbs. and died at age 61. By the way, it is said that she also smoked 500 cigars a month.

The Jungle

Upton Sinclair noticed all was not well with the meatpacking industry. He spent seven weeks in the largest meat center in Chicago listening to stories of the workers, touring several plants and seeing for himself what went on to describe what horrors went on behind closed doors.  He published his accounts in his famous book, The Jungle in 1906. Although his intent was to give a fictionalized account of a Lithuanian immigrant’s struggles for years to survive in this industry, it was his descriptions of meat that concerned most Americans. They were shocked to learn the details of how cattle and hogs were being sliced into beef and pork and by how much condemned meat was entering our food supply by describing meat filled storage rooms teeming with rats.

Condemned meat was doused with Borax and glycerin, recolored with other chemicals and sold. As for the workers., beef – boners suffered knife wounds, pluckers had to handle acid treated wool and had their fingers slowly burned off. Men would sometimes fall into vats of lard and “they will be overlooked for days until all but the bones of them had gone out as the product called Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard.” wrote Sinclair.

Four months after the jungle was published, Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act, establishing sanitary standards and the Pure Food and Drug Act, which required labeling of food and empowered federal inspectors to prosecute plant owners.  There the laws were not often enforced but were the beginning of a safer meat industry. However, there is still much work to be done to guarantee the safety of our food supply.

The Candy Man

Of course, we all love chocolate but the man behind it was Milton Hershey.  He observed the mass production of solid chocolate at the 1893 Worlds’ Colombian Exposition, and by 1902, the Hershey Chocolate Company was born. This brought to the general public a once-luxurious product only available to the wealthy classes.

Milton Hershey bought property in Pennsylvania and by 1904, chocolate production was in full force. His signature nickel chocolatle bar in spite of its gradually increased size, remained a nickel in price from its inception to 1969.  In 1907, chocolate kisses appeared wrapped in foil and tissue papers that emblazoned the company name and are still popular today. His original property was purchased for $1000 dollars in cash that included chocolate making equipment and he quickly went to work to build his own factory where his first sales netted $622,000 in profit.  In 1906, The property then expanded to become the town of Hershey, PA. Hershey helped to lay out the town to include streets named Chocolate Avenue and Cocoa Ave. By 1906, he had several hundred workers on staff. Presently, the company has expanded to include Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Twizzlers, Good & Plenty, and Milk Duds.

Bon Appetit, September 1999; The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink

The Automat

Horn and Hardart can be credited with starting the first fast food establishment in America.

At the turn of the century, a company called Horn and Hardart purchased a new Swiss invention called the “waiterless restaurant.” A newer more efficient model was designed that had glass doors opened by a knob. The customer would walk down a wall of these doors, select a hot or cold food item, insert a nickel, and turn the knob. Then a door would spring open for the customer to receive his/her selection.  In the back, a team of women kept the slots filled with food.

Horn and Hardart opened its first Automat in NYC in 1912. The atmosphere was elegant with two-story stained-glass windows and elaborate carvings on the ceilings. By 1932, 46 had opened in Philadelphia besides 42 operating in NYC.  In the 1980’s most of the automats were converted to Burger Kings and the last Automat closed in Philadelphia in 1990. One year later, the last one closed in NYC.

Before the automat disappeared completely, a 35-foot section of an ornate Automat wall with mirrors and marble was installed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

NEXT SERIES: DINING THROUGH THE DECADES: 1910’s.