The Good Provider

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The costliest, most ambitious, and probably most successful promotional undertaking was the Heinz Pier at Atlantic City, “The Sea Shore Home of the 57 Varieties,” built in 1899 at the end of Massachusetts Avenue and still remembered with gratitude by thousands of foot-weary sightseers. The pier presented to the boardwalk the free-standing façade of a vaguely classical triumphal arch. It was crowned with a broken pediment and (in the early years) had two large green Heinz pickles suspended horizontally and rather attractively between the columns on either side of the entrance. It extended some nine hundred feet into the Atlantic Ocean and had several pavilion buildings at the outermost end. These offered the visitor, free of charge: rest rooms; an auditorium and a concert-lecture series; an exhibition of “industrial and sociological photographs” of the main Heinz plant, its kitchens, and its people; a reading room with writing tables and free souvenir cards and stationery; a kitchen; and at the very end a glassedin sun parlor. The kitchen had displays of Heinz products (“the kind that contain no preservatives”) and offered free samples, cooking lessons, and a place where one might order “a sample assortment of the choicest of the 57 Varieties, which will be delivered to your home through your grocer at a special price, all charges paid. Only one case sold to any one home.” The sun parlor held, among other things, an extraordinary collection of 144 paintings, bronzes, tapestries, and curios. Major works among the paintings included King Lear Awakening from Insanity , by Hildebrand; Decadence of the Romans , by Contour; and Stanley at the Congo , by Gentz and Koerner, thirteen by twenty-two feet in size. There were marble busts of Socrates, Caesar, Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Othello (in six colors), Milton, Louis XIV , Charles Wesley, Napoleon, Garibaldi, and Queen Alexandra of England. There was an Egyptian mummy, a mounted ram’s head, a Buddhist household shrine, a framed collection of Confederate money, a couple of nine-foot elephant tusks, a chair made of animal horns with a leather seat, a chair that had belonged to General Grant, and a panel from one of Admiral Nelson’s warships. In the forty-five years of its existence, fifty million people visited the Heinz Pier, and every one of them was offered—and most accepted—the Heinz pickle. In September, 1944, however, a hurricane tore the pier apart and cast it into the Atlantic.

 

In 1905, at the age of sixty-one, Heinz incorporated his company, with himself as president and a select group of relatives and executives as the only stockholders. He was now master of a corporation with eleven branch factories, twenty-six branch houses, and sales in the millions of dollars. He felt a deep dissatisfaction, however, at one aspect of his operation: canning. It still had a bad name, and he was not in a truly respectable business. Commercial food processing did not enjoy public confidence, and it was under increasing attack from the federal government.

The federal attacks were initiated by Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, after 1883 the crusading chief chemist of the Bureau of Chemistry, United States Department of Agriculture. [See “Who Put the Borax in Dr. Wiley’s Butter?” AMERICAN HERITAGE , August, 1956.] Wiley had a “poison squad” of twelve young men who searched out and publicized case after case in which processors of food and drink were using harmful chemicals to preserve, color, or flavor their products. From the flank, Upton Sinclair and the other muckrakers were attacking unsanitary and poisonous commercial foods, revealed most shockingly in the spoiled canned meat that had killed American soldiers in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

 
 
 

Food company executives gave all the arguments why federal interference would be a disaster and all the reasons why the industry itself should be permitted to police its guilty members. Henry Heinz did not agree. He was gripped by Important Idea Number Seven: The food-processing industry will not grow until it has earned public confidence, and the way to earn public confidence is to work in partnership with a federal regulatory agency.

He sent his son Howard to Washington with petitions and proffered his support to Dr. Wiley and President Roosevelt in their program to clean up the industry. Congress passed and the President signed the Food and Drugs and Meat Inspection acts of 1906, which ruled that all foods coming within federal jurisdiction must be prepared in a cleanly manner from pure and wholesome materials and be free from any added substance that might render them injurious to health.