The Good Provider

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His leading instrument for getting the public to assist him in his advertising and promotion was the plaster “pickle charm,” which at first was looped to hang from a chain and then also became a pin. Arthur W. Baum, a Saturday Evening Post editor, once called it “one of the most famous give-aways in merchandising history.” For no good reason except that they were magnificently available and that it was the thing to do, a generation of children, an army of boys, wore Heinz pickles on their coats, shirts, blouses, sweaters, caps. Adults carried them for good luck, or as a gag, or because of habit formed in childhood.

Heinz visited the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago with his usual pocketful of pins and with plans to give away one million more to the hordes of visitors. The food exhibits were grouped in the Ideal Home Building. The foreign companies—Crosse & Blackwell, Lea & Perrins, Fortnum & Mason, Dundee & Croydon, and others—were on the main floor, apparently on the American premise that if it is imported it must be better. The American companies, including Heinz, were grouped on the gallery at the top of a long flight of stairs. The hordes came, looked through the foreign food exhibits, glanced at the flight of stairs, and left to see other main-floor exhibits, the Midway, and Little Egypt. They had seen the food show and did not return.

Heinz took one look at the straggle of visitors on the gallery and left for the nearest printing shop. He designed and produced a small white card made to look like a baggage check, with the promise on the back that if the bearer presented it at the Heinz Company exhibit, he would receive a free souvenir. His men handed out checks to all who would take them, and up and down the exposition grounds a scattering of small boys dropped them by the thousands. By the thousands the people headed for the food show, swept past the foreign exhibits, and climbed the stairs to the Heinz display. There they viewed an assortment of art objects, antiquities, and curiosities, sampled Heinz products on toothpicks and crackers, and received a green plaster pickle pin. Fair officials had to summon police to regulate the size of the crowds until the supports of the gallery could be strengthened. The foreign food men filed an official complaint of unfair competitive methods. The other American food exhibitors, grateful for the crowds attracted to their own booths, gave Heinz a dinner and an inscribed silver loving cup. He wrote in his diary, “A great hit. We hear it from all sources.”

Heinz had two stern restrictions on his advertising: never post billboards in or around Pittsburgh and never advertise in the Sunday newspapers. His successors have lifted the ban on Sunday advertisements, but few Heinz billboards are seen today. One of the last giant outdoor signs stands today in Wenceslaus Square in Prague, Czechoslovakia—a huge Heinz ketchup bottle outlined in electric lights. It remained lighted all during the resistance in the summer of 1968 and throughout the Russian invasion that followed. Czechs have a fondness for the sign; some of them regard it as their window on the West.