The Good Provider

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If Anna had a suggestion on how to do something better, she could drop it into a box and perhaps get a reward or even a promotion. She could take a friend with her to the annual July picnic at one of the parks, reached on a train chartered to carry some two thousand people. At Christmas she watched and perhaps participated in the employees’ dramatic presentation in the Auditorium, after which she received a silk umbrella, a silk scarf, or a handkerchief.

The Auditorium, said to be the first in the country built for the benefit of employees, was the masterpiece of the Heinz complex. It had a musical director, 1,200 opera-type seats, a gallery with boxes, and a splendid dome of stained glass. The dome represented the globe, on which appeared the words, “The world our field.” Around the base of the dome were inscribed eight of the highest human virtues: Integrity, Courage, Economy, Temperance, Perseverance, Patience, Prudence, and Tact. The walls held a number of fine paintings, including the famous work created in 1880 by John Mulvany, Custer’s Last Rally , twelve feet high and twenty-two feet long. Between the pictures appeared “mottoes,” some of them written by Henry J. Heinz himself: “To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success”; “A young man’s integrity in youth is the keystone of his success in after life”; “Make all you can honestly, save all you can prudently, give all you can wisely.” And his favorite, which appeared in offices, halls, waiting rooms, and work areas of every Heinz installation: “Do the best you can, where you are, with what you have today.”

In an age blemished by child labor, sweatshops, firetrap factories, callous indifference to industrial accidents, and many filthy food-processing factories, people came thousands of miles to see this Utopia for workers. All plant operations were open to public inspection. Visitors were given a guide, an orientation lecture, the tour, free samples to taste, and a souvenir to carry away —a small, green plaster Heinz pickle from the “Heinz pickle works.” Heinz himself sometimes conducted the important visitors through the plant and often persuaded them to appear before his employees in the Auditorium. Signatures in the Register of Prominent Visitors in the early 1900’s included those of Elbert Hubbard (twice), Burton Holmes, Billie Burke, David Belasco, John Drew, Jane Addams, John Philip Sousa, eighteen Japanese businessmen, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and the Central Committee of the World’s Sunday School Association.

The plant tours, of course, were a form of corporate promotion. Heinz had a superb talent for promotion, and he worked it to the limit. The 110 Heinz horses were all jet black, except for two white mares, and they pulled sixty-five creamwhite wagons with green trimmings. People turned to look. When the hundreds of Heinz salesmen rolled into Pittsburgh each January in chartered Pullman cars for a weeklong conference, the H. J. Heinz Company Employees’ Brass Band met them at the station and marched them across town to their hotel. The country’s hillsides and trolley cars blossomed with Heinz advertisements. New York’s first large electric sign went up where Broadway crossed Fifth Avenue: “Heinz 57 Good Things for the Table.” It was six stories high, and the public soon learned that it had 1,200 lights and cost ninety dollars in electricity every night. Heinz never forgot for a moment that he was operating in the country’s most fragmented industry, with commercial competitors on every side, or that every housewife who owned a box of Mason jars was a potential competitor as well as a customer. The fight for shelf space in the grocery store, even before the advent of the supermarket and the explosion of brand-name products, was as fierce as anything the commercial world had known. Every Heinz salesman carried in his sample case a hammer for tacking up advertisements and a clean white cloth for dusting off the Heinz goods on the shelves. While dusting, of course, he would try to place his products at end-aisle or eye level and move competitors’ products to the back or to the lower shelves.

Heinz had personally hit upon the “57 Varieties” slogan in 1896 while riding a New York elevated train. He was studying the car cards and was taken by one that advertised “21 styles” of shoes. He applied the phrase to his own products. There were more than sixty of them at the time, but for occult reasons his mind kept returning to the number 57 and the phrase “57 Varieties.” “The idea gripped me at once,” he told an interviewer, “and I jumped off the train at the first station and began the work of laying out my advertising plans. Within a week the sign of the green pickle with the ‘57 Varieties’ was appearing in newspapers, on billboards, signboards, and everywhere else I could find a place to stick it.” The capstone of Heinz promotion was Important Idea Number Six: We keep our shingle out and then let the public blow our horn.