- Historic Sites
The Good Provider
“57 VARIETIES” WAS ONLY A SALES SLOGAN, BUT H. J. HEINZ UNDERSTOOD FROM THE START THAT THERE WAS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR HONEST PRODUCTS AND WELL-TREATED WORKERS
February 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 2
He had no letter of introduction. There was, he knew, no Mr. Fortnum or Mr. Mason. A salesman, he must have known, should be calling at the service entrance, but he grasped his bag, marched through the Georgian doorway, and announced in a firm American voice that he was there to see the Head of Grocery Purchasing. When that gentleman appeared, Heinz introduced himself—a food merchant from Pittsburgh in the United States of America—and began his well-rehearsed presentation. At the proper moment he whipped open his bag. The Head surveyed the products, tasted the horseradish, the ketchup, the chili sauce. Heinz readied himself to meet the expected rebuff with a prepared counterattack. He was astonished and perhaps a bit let down to hear the Head say, “I think, Mr. Heinz, we will take all of them.”
He began the story in his diary, “ 1ST SALE IN ENGLAND ,” and ended it, “I was highly delighted.” Perhaps it was on that day that Important Idea Number Four was born: The world is our market.
(Nine years later Heinz rented an office and warehouse near the London Tower and opened his own English branch. It eventually prospered beyond all expectation, became a Purveyor to the Queen, and developed into such an English institution that an American can win a public-house argument today with an Englishman who insists that Heinz is a company born, bred, and headquartered in Britain.)
Home again, Heinz bought full control of the business and in 1888 renamed it the H. J. Heinz Company. He took over some twenty-two acres on the Allegheny River across from Pittsburgh and there built a complex of solid Pittsburgh-Romanesque office, factory, and service buildings. (“The best of everything,” he wrote. “Oak posts throughout.”) The stables were especially notable; one reporter called them equine palaces. They were fireproof, heated by steam, lighted by electricity, screened at the windows. The 110 horses were fed, watered, and brushed by electrically operated machinery; their harnesses were carried to and from the tack room on an overhead conveyor. The floor was cork-brick covered with fresh sawdust, and every morning the hostlers used their brooms to make elaborate designs in the sawdust down each side of a center path. A reporter for American Grocer declared with awe that the horses actually exhibited pride in their surroundings.
Heinz had seen at close range the bloody railroad riots that followed a 10 percent wage cut in the summer of 1877, first in Baltimore, where he was stranded for a week because of destruction of equipment, and then in Pittsburgh, where forty people were killed and the militia patrolled the streets. (“It is the awfullest looking sight I ever saw. Millions of property burned down.”) He observed that public sympathy had originally been with the strikers. He had seen the orderly, progressive, benevolent paternalism of the German factories. He resolved to use what he called “heart power” to build a community of “workpeople” who would feel so happy on the job and so privileged as Heinz employees that they would never dream of rioting or striking. This was Important Idea Number Five: Humanize the business system of today and you will have the remedy for the present discontent that characterizes the commercial world and fosters a spirit of enmity between capital and labor.
He succeeded so well that he won a gold medal at a Paris exposition “for the policy of the firm tending to the improvement of factory conditions.” Numbers of favorably disposed sociologists and at least one authentic union leader visited the Allegheny works and reported that Mr. Heinz had indeed solved the class struggle. There was no labor trouble at Heinz—and there were no unions—for forty-five years. The first strike came long after the death of the Founder, when the Depression and New Deal ushered in new ideas and a new age.
Throughout the years there was always a line at the Heinz employment office. If Anna Kurpiewski was hired and joined the other girls—there were nine hundred of them in 1899—she found an unfamiliar set of conditions. She had a private locker with a key; and if she handled food, she was given a manicure once a week. She had the free services of a dispensary nurse, a physician, and two company dentists. She could read in the reading room after hours, borrow books, attend evening lectures or entertainment, take free classes in cooking, dressmaking, drawing, millinery, and singing, use a swimming pool and gymnasium, and sun herself on a roof garden atop the five-story bottling building. She worked from 7 A.M. to 5:40 P.M. , which was what girls in other factories worked, but on Saturday she quit an hour early, at 4:40 P.M.
In the five-hundred-seat girls’ dining room in the bottling building she could buy tea or coffee for a penny and take it to one of the long tables, where she would unwrap her lunch and listen while she ate to music played on a large organ imported from Germany. She could feast her eyes on a hundred paintings and drawings hung on the walls, of a kind that would give her elevated thoughts, appeal to her finer sensibilities, and exercise a refining influence in her life. Occasionally, dances were held in the Auditorium, though to endow them with a dignified air, they were called promenade concerts.