The majority of items in this collection were produced to promote Jell-O brand gelatin from the 1910s to the 1970s. Gelatin dishes were once considered a sign of wealth due to their difficult preparation, involving hours of rendering and clarifying. Unflavored, dried gelatin was commercially available by the 1840s, and American industrialist Peter Cooper secured a patent for a granulated gelatin dessert powder in 1845, but did little with his product. Charles Knox began selling sheets of dried gelatin in 1894 and published a recipe book entitled Dainty Desserts in 1896. Cooper sold his patent for granulated gelatin to Pearle Waite of LeRoy, New York, in 1895. Waite created a fruit-flavored gelatin dessert that his wife Mary called “Jell-O,” but lacked the experience and capital to market the product. In 1899, he sold the formula to Orator Frank Woodward, a manufacturer of proprietary medicines and packaged foods in the same town, for $450.
The Jell-O name was first used by Woodward’s Genesee Pure Food Company in 1900 and advertisements for Jell-O gelatin first appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1902, where it was described as “America’s Most Famous Dessert.” In 1904, Woodward began sending out salesmen with free Jell-O cookbooks to distribute to grocers and home economists, and soon employed artists like Rose O’Neill, Maxfield Parrish, and Norman Rockwell to illustrate advertisements. In 1923, Jell-O Company, Inc. took over Genesee Pure Food Company with no change in management or control. In 1925, the company merged with Postum and in 1927 became the General Foods Corporation. The Jell-O factory remained in LeRoy, New York, until 1964, and the town still operates a Jell-O museum. As of 2017, Jell-O gelatin is produced by the Kraft Heinz Company in Dover, Delaware.
Several items in this collection relate to Royal-brand gelatin, which was first produced in 1925, as a subsidiary of the Royal Baking Powder Company. In 1929, the Royal Baking Powder Co. merged with several other enterprises to form Standard Brands, Inc. This conglomerate merged with Nabisco in 1981. In 2000, Jel Sert acquired the Royal brand from Nabisco. Other items in this collection were produced by the Campbell Soup Company, Whirlpool Corporation, Kraft, Inc., and Lipton Kitchens, now a subsidiary of Unilever.
Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger, a graduate student in the University of Delaware’s Department of History, assembled this collection of ephemera while researching the cultural history of gelatin in the twentieth-century United States.
LeBesco, Kathleen. “There’s Always Room for Resistance: Jell-O, Gender, and Social Class,” in Cooking Lessons: The Politics of Gender and Food, edited by Sherrie A. Inness, 129-150. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001.
Spring, Joel. Educating the Consumer-Citizen: A History of the Marriage of Schools, Advertising, and Media. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 2003.
Harvard Baker Library, Lehmann Brothers Collection, “Standard Brands Incorporated” (accessed May 23, 2017) http://www.library.hbs.edu/hc/lehman/company.html?company=standard_brands_incorporated
Le Roy, New York Historical Society website, “The History of Jell-O” (accessed May 23, 2017) http://www.jellogallery.org/history.html
What’s Cooking America website, “History of Gelatin, Gelatine, and Jell-O” (accessed May 23, 2017) https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Jell-0-history.htm
The New York Times. “Upstate, Where It Was First Made, Unwavering Devotion to Jell-O,” May 4, 2008 (accessed May 23, 2017) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/04/nyregion/04jello.html?ex=1210564800&en=11a9dce77358ac6b&ei=5070&_r=0
Jel Sert Company website, “Royal Fun for Everyone” (accessed May 23, 2017) http://jelsert.com/products/desserts/royal.aspx
Funding Universe website, “Nabisco Foods Group History,” (accessed May 23, 2017) http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/nabisco-foods-group-history/
Information derived from the collection.
The Jones-Minsinger Gelatin and convenience food ephemera collection contains recipe booklets and advertisements promoting Jell-O and Royal-brand gelatin as well as other convenience foods dating from the 1910s to the 1980s.
Most items in this collection are advertisements and recipe booklets promoting Jell-O-brand gelatin and associated products. These items targeted American women and children as the primary consumers of Jell-O. Advertisements stressed the product’s popularity with women and insisted it was always fresh because high demand insured no box of Jell-O would sit on the grocer’s shelf for long. Materials focused on entertainment appealed to hostesses, promising they could create spectacular dishes and still have time to enjoy their guests. A 1962 recipe booklet attributed Jell-O gelatin’s success to housewives, who “turned their imaginative attention to Jell-O” and created the first recipe booklets. These items also marketed Jell-O gelatin as the ideal food to be prepared and consumed by children. Advertisements insisted that children wanted Jell-O more than other types of desserts, and used a young girl known as “the Jell-O girl” as their main spokesperson for several decades. A 1977 book provided numerous recipes that could be executed by children, interspersed with magic tricks by “Marvello the Great.”
Most Jell-O advertisements, regardless of when they were produced, stressed the product’s ease of preparation. These materials assured readers that Jell-O gelatin could be made quickly and with little effort, but would turn out right every time. Recipes could also be made in advance, insuring there would be no last minute fuss.
However, these Jell-O advertisements also responded to changing consumer demands, shifting their emphasis from purity to nutritional value to cost-effectiveness over time. Early materials depicted Jell-O gelatin as a modern foodstuff, stressing its uniformity in production and including images of factories and machinery. Concerns about adulteration created a focus on purity, and advertisements often emphasized the source of Jell-O gelatin’s ingredients and the cleanliness of production. Nutritional value centered on ease of digestion, and several advertisements described gelatin as an ideal food for convalescents. By the 1930s, advertisements instead discussed the products’ vitamin content. The onset of the Great Depression also saw an increased emphasis on Jell-O gelatin’s cost-effectiveness. Advertisements insisted that Jell-O products could stretch the family food budget and that gelatin salads were an easy way to use up leftovers. Advertisements from the 1940s also emphasized waste prevention, but did so in promotion of the war effort. By the 1960s, advertisements began highlighting the Jell-O brand’s nostalgic value and recast gelatin as a diet food that would “sit light on the conscience.”
This collection also contains two booklets from the 1930s promoting Royal-brand gelatin and pudding. These materials highlighted the products’ pleasant aroma, ease of digestion, and richness in vitamins. Royal products were guaranteed fresh because they were “rushed to grocers” by the same delivery system that carried Chase & Sanborn coffee, another product made by Standard Brands, Inc.
Four recipe booklets in this collection promote convenience foods and new kitchen technologies in the 1970s and 1980s. A Campbell’s Soup booklet provided recipes for both condensed and ready-to-eat soups. A cookbook highlighting Philadelphia Cream Cheese included recipes incorporating various other products produced by Kraft, Inc. A recipe booklet for Lipton Cup-a-Soup focused on making meals for one or two people, often using the microwave for quick preparation. A 1979 booklet from Whirlpool introduced consumers to microwave cooking, advertised special microwave utensils, and even suggested cooking clams and lobster in the microwave.