THE HISTORY OF JELL-O
HELLO "There's Always Room for JELL-O." This is the campaign slogan of a simple gelatin dessert that today is known as "America's Most Famous Dessert." The success story is one, the result of advertising and merchandising methods, new and different, never before employed. Salesmen, well-trained, well groomed, well versed in the art of selling went out in "spanking rigs, drawn by beautiful horses" into the roads, byroads, fairs, country gatherings, church socials, and parties to advertise their product. First came team-drawn wagons, to be followed by smart auto-cars. Pictures, posters, and billboards over the American landscape, as well as page ads in magazines, carried the Jell-O Girl and the six delicious flavors into the American home.
In 1845, Peter Cooper dabbled with and patented a product which was "set" with gelatin. Suffice it to say, it never did "jell" with the American public. In 1897, Pearle Wait, a carpenter in LeRoy, was putting up a cough remedy and laxative tea in his home. He experimented with gelatine and came up with a fruit flavored dessert which his wife, May, named JELL-O. He tried to market his product but he lacked the capital and the experience. In 1899 he sold the trademark to a fellow townsman for the sum of $450.
The buyer already had some success in manufacturing and selling. He was one of the best known manufacturers of proprietary medicines. Orator Frank Woodward was born in North Bergen in 1856 and moved with his family to LeRoy in 1860. Life was not easy for the boy, but no job was too menial for him, because in his mind every opportunity was a step toward his goal. By 1876 he was making composition balls used by marksmen for target shooting. Then he engaged in the manufacture of a composition nest egg with "miraculous power to kill lice on hens when hatching." This became a widely known and used product in the United States and Canada.
On September 9, 1899 he purchased the name and the business of JELL-O from Mr. Wait. The bill of sale bears the name of Everett W. Bishop as witness. Manufacturing was carried on under the supervision of Andrew Samuel Nico of Lyons, NY. Sales were slow and disheartening for the new product, but income from Grain-O remained steady. One day in a gloomy mood "O.F." offered Sam Nico the whole blankety-blank business for $35. This story is vouchsafed by George McHardy. In 1900, the JELL-O name was first used by the Genesee Pure Food Company. The advertising campaign proved so successful that in 1902 Jell-O sales mounted to $250,000. Jell-O prospered and the consensus of the townspeople is carried in a colloquial expression heard in town - "Grain-O, JELL-O, and Nico."
From the beginning JELL-O's advertising was directed by William E. Humelbaugh followed by Frank LaBounty. These men began the distribution of recipes and samples in 1904. A three-inch ad costing $336 in the Ladies Home Journal launched the printed portion of the campaign, and the first of the JELL-O "best seller" recipes rolled off the presses. In some years as many as 15 million booklets were distributed. Noted artists such as Rose O'Neill, Maxfield Parrish, Coles Phillips, Norman Rockwell, Linn Ball, and Angus MacDonald made JELL-O a household word with their colored illustrations.
In 1904, JELL-O introduces the JELL-O Girl, four year old Elizabeth King whose father, Franklin King, was an artist connected with the Dauchy Company - JELL-O's advertising agency. In her right hand the little girl held a teakettle and in her left a package of Jell-O. Advertising kept abreast of the times and so in 1934 General Foods, a pioneer in selling by radio, signed Jack Benny and the whole world came to know "J-E-L-L-O."
To return to the early days, on November 5, 1923 the JELL-O Company, Inc. was organized and took over the entire assets of the Genesee Pure Foods Company with no change in management or control. The purpose of this change was to protect the value of JELL-O as a trade name by closely identifying it with the business. The intent was to keep it from becoming a common noun. The officers in 1925 just before it joined with Postum were: Ernest L. Woodward, James Gordon Gilfillan, Charles W. Metcalf, Frank L. LaBounty, Donald Woodward, and Miss Beatrice Curtiss.
Succeeding years saw JELL-O change from a hand-packaged business to a highly mechanized factory, and become one of LeRoy's most important industries. The search for new products and unique advertising and merchandising break-throughs developed a phenomenal record. On December 31, 1925 the JELL-O Company, Inc. was sold to the Postum Cereal Company, Inc. by exchange of stock, thereby becoming the first subsidiary of a large merger that would eventually become General Foods Corporation. And so the little JELL-O package which was born in LeRoy in 1897 grew from childhood to adulthood. JELL-O left its hometown to make its way in the wide wide world in 1964. Today JELL-O is manufactured by Kraft/General Foods in Dover Delaware.
During an airshow at the Woodward
Airport, one of the contests involved having the pilot land the plane, run up to a table and eat a bowl of JELL-O and then run back to the plane and take off.
Fruits that float: fresh fruits such as apples, bananas, orange and grapefruit sections, sliced peaches and pears, strawberries, and fruit packed in light syrup.
The first four JELL-O flavors were orange, lemon, strawberry, and raspberry. Lime was introduced
Fruits that sink: seedless
grapes and fruits in heavy
syrup such as apricots,
cherries, fruit cocktail,
peaches, pears, and
In 1909, the Genesee Pure Food Company posted sales earnings of over a million dollars. Four years later, that number doubled.
The people of Salt Lake City consume more lime-flavored gelatin than any other city in the United States
January 6, 1925, JELL-O was issued a patent for a sugarless gelatin dessert known as D-Zerta.
March 17, 1993, technicians at St. Jerome hospital in Batavia tested a bowl of lime JELL-O with an EEG machine and confirm the earlier testing by Dr. Adrian Upton that a bowl of wiggly JELL-O has brain waves identical to those of adult men and women.
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