February 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 2
“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
Pittsburgh, God knows, was no fourth-century Athens, but around 1900 it did have a remarkable group of industrial leaders. The Pittsburgh barons exercised their power and made their fortunes in coal and coke, iron and steel, aluminum and oil, glass, rails, and heavy machinery. Five of them were commanding figures in their time and are legends in ours: Carnegie, Frick, Westinghouse, Mellon, and Heinz. Allan Nevins has called such men the architects of our material progress. They have been called other things as well, all except H. J. Heinz.
Henry John Heinz chose in this most unlikely location—a city built among hills and based on the heaviest of heavy industry—to work at the primary business of feeding people. For fifty years he was a dominant force in developments that changed agricultural practices, the processing of food, and the kitchen habits of the nation. Heinz founded a giant corporation in a new industry, and he carried its products and philosophy to four continents with a promotional flair that probably has never been surpassed.
The diet of Americans in 1869, when twenty-five-year-old Henry Heinz and a still-younger partner named L. C. Noble founded their company, was of a tiresome monotony seven or eight months of the year. The staples were bread, potatoes, root vegetables, and meat, often dried, smoked, or salted. Cucumbers and pickles were the only salad in winter, and in any case, leaf salads were considered unmanly. There was little movement of foodstuffs from one region to another, except for the shipment of meat, and each part of the country had its marked variations and limitations in diet. The grocery store had no produce section; fresh vegetables and fruits were sold in season only. Grapefruit was unknown outside Florida, and an orange was something found in a Christmas stocking. Tomatoes were an exotic Mexican fruit, long grown and admired as “love apples,” for which the nation was just beginning to acquire a taste. In the relatively new art of commercial preservation in cans and bottles, the food was laced with chemicals that caused digestive disturbances, if not worse. (The 1911 Britannica devoted thirty-two columns to the adulteration of food.)
Henry J. had become a food merchant at the age of twelve, and his first triumph had to do with food adulterants. Living in Sharpsburg, a small town on the Allegheny River six miles above Pittsburgh, he peddled the excess produce of the family garden to his neighbors, first in a handbasket, then in a cart, graduating to a horse and wagon, four acres under cultivation, and thrice weekly trips to call on Pittsburgh grocers. His specialty, however, was horseradish, the pungent white root that was consumed in vast quantities because it sharpened the appetite, made dull food palatable, and supposedly possessed medicinal qualities, especially for grippe and catarrh. Horseradish would keep only if grated, and bottled in vinegar—a chore that made the eyes smart. A local trade had grown up in horseradish, always in green bottles and sometimes with adulterants that looked like, but were not, grated horseradish. Henry J. bottled his product in clear glass and peddled it as the whitest and best-quality root—look, no leaves, no wood fiber, no turnip filler! When sales rose, he filed in his mind the first two of the Important Ideas that were to make him rich. Important Idea Number One: Housewives are willing to let someone else take over a share of their kitchen operations. Important Idea Number Two: A pure article of superior quality will find a ready market through its intrinsic value— if properly packaged and promoted.
By 1875, their sixth year of operation, Heinz and Noble had, in the words of a contemporary analyst, “built up the business with a rapidity seldom witnessed.” Already their company was one of the country’s leading producers of condiments. They had moved from the two-story Sharpsburg house that served as their headquarters and manufacturing center (it is now enshrined in Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan) to an office and storeroom in the city. They had one hundred and fifty “operatives” in season; one hundred acres of garden along the Allegheny River (thirty in horseradish); twenty-five horses; a business office and vinegar factory in St. Louis; and an annual capacity of three thousand barrels of sauerkraut, fifteen thousand barrels of pickles, and fifty thousand barrels of vinegar. And they had a new contract: a commitment to pickle the produce of some six hundred acres of cucumbers near Woodstock, Illinois.
Despite their apparent prosperity, the partners had overextended themselves and were in serious trouble. The Jay Cooke banking panic had tightened credit, and times were hard. Throughout 1875 Heinz, who owned three eighths of the company, was frantically busy in a scramble to meet payrolls, obtain loans, renew notes, and cover the ever-larger, ever-faster checks that were drawn on him when a bumper cucumber crop came in at Woodstock—one thousand dollars a day throughout October. Heinz endorsed his life insurance as collateral, borrowed from friends, and mortgaged his house, the house he had built for his parents, and his father’s brick kiln. All were lost when Heinz & Noble Company filed for bankruptcy in December with assets of $110,000 and liabilities of $170,000. On January 13, with an empty kitchen at home, Heinz called on three grocers “to trust me for groceries on my honor, and I would pay as soon as I could make something after I would get matters straightened up.” He was refused. In his private diary (made available for this article) he wrote: “Bankruptcy changes a man’s nature. I feel as though every person had lost confidence in me and I am therefore reserved.”
The following month his brother John and cousin Frederick, operating with three thousand dollars of borrowed capital, set up in the food business under the name F. & J. Heinz. Henry J. became their manager, with the private understanding that when discharged from bankruptcy he would own half the company. They barely weathered the first year. “Very close run for money,” he wrote in August. “Can’t see how to get along and not a man or friend will give us a cent, even on chattel mortgage.” Pittsburghers had admired his superb teams, matched for size, breed, and color. Now he wrote: “Bought a cheap $16 horse to help us out of a pinch. He is blind.”
The upturn came in 1879. The depression was over. The company made a fifteen-thousand-dollar profit; a Pittsburgh bank discounted $2,500 of the company’s paper without an endorser (“This is gratifying”); and Heinz gave each of his best workers a fifteen-dollar Christmas bonus “for faithful efforts and good success.” He paid off with interest, out of his salary, a dozen of the names on his Debt of Honor list—his three-eighths share of the old company’s debt. He felt prosperous enough to lend a bankrupt friend five hundred dollars with which to buy back his stock at sheriff’s sale, and on his tenth wedding anniversary he bought his wife Sallie an oil painting entitled Sweet Hour of Prayer .
The Heinz products increased in variety, volume, and reputation: tomato ketchup in 1876, red and green pepper sauce in 1879, cider vinegar and apple butter in 1880, and then other “fruit butters,” chili sauce, mincemeat, mustard, tomato soup, olives, pickled onions, pickled cauliflower, sweet pickles (the first ever marketed), baked beans with tomato sauce. In April, 1880, Heinz drew up a contract with the pickle growers around La Porte, Indiana, in which he supplied the cucumber seed and contracted to buy the harvest. Important Idea Number Three was born: To improve the product in glass or can, you must first improve it while still in the ground.
In the summer of 1886 Heinz sailed from New York on the paddlewheel City of Berlin with his wife, his sister Mary, and his four children (Irene, fourteen years old, and three younger sons). He took with him six folding chairs, six dozen oranges, two dozen lemons, a bundle of blankets, and, in the hold, several crates of Heinz products. A muscular, energetic little man (129 pounds) with sparkling eyes and bristling red “side choppers,” he carried a pocket diary, a notebook, and a steel tape measure, which he whipped out on any occasion for recording interesting heights, widths, and distances.
He landed in Liverpool, looked around, and wrote: “I have learned little in this city which I can utilize in America to advantage.” In the two weeks he spent in London he visited, tape measure in hand, the Crystal Palace, the Albert Memorial, and the Smithfield Poultry and Dead Cattle Market. He copied the inscription from John Bunyan’s tomb, collected a white pebblestone from the grave of John Wesley, and spoke to a class at a Free Methodist Sunday School. He called on food brokers, glassmen, a pickle factory, a malt vinegar factory, and the offices of Crosse & Blackwell (“an immense house”). The Houses of Parliament, unfortunately, were closed to visitors, “owing to several attempts in blowing up the buildings.”
On June 16 Heinz brushed his whiskers, donned his best frock coat (made for him in Philadelphia by an English tailor), and put on a shiny new top hat. He picked up a Gladstone bag containing “7 varieties of our finest and newest goods,” hailed a hansom cab on Great Russell Street, where he had rooms, and directed it to Piccadilly Circus. He was calling on “the largest House supplying the fine trade of London and suburbs and even shipping.” The gold letters on the window, under the coat of arms, read: “Fortnum & Mason, Ltd., Purveyor to the Queen.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Heinz was now becoming an elder statesman of his industry. He was active in pursuit of such Pittsburgh goals as flood control and smoke abatement (most of which were realized in the “Pittsburgh Renaissance” that began in 1946) and in charitable activities. He was chairman of the executive committee of Kansas City University and president of the World Sunday School Association. He had bought, four years before his wife’s death in 1894, a baronial mansion in Pittsburgh’s East End, and there he lived with a staff of servants, various relatives, and assorted visiting grandchildren (one of whom, Henry J. Heinz II , is now chairman of the company). He had a conservatory and fruit house (open to the public) and a private museum (open to schoolchildren). He built a settlement house for children in memory of his wife. He travelled to Europe every year accompanied by a valet and a secretary, visited Egypt, Palestine, Mexico, and Bermuda (he met and spent some time with Mark Twain on one of his voyages), and in 1913 took twenty-nine World Sunday School officials on a trip around the world.
Heinz turned much of the operation of the business over to his son Howard (Yale, 1900) and then bombarded him with commanding directives and affectionate reproaches: “I cannot find a single advertisement in the magazines. Are you asleep? Read this to the advertising department … careful NOT TO OVERDO IT AT BOARD MEETINGS . Give your partners a chance to say something, and let the majority decide. … Our opportunity in California is now. We ought to advertise. … You must get outside away from the desk. I wish you would put some competent man to take your place at the desk, and you help to organize other departments. You know you enjoy better health not at the desk, you accomplish more, the results are greater away from the desk, and yet you are determined to stay at the desk. … If I love you I must speak the truth and say the things that will help you.”
In sad fact Henry Heinz was experiencing at last an inevitable ailment: he was becoming a superannuated man. His beloved horses had been replaced by Electromobiles and Columbia Electrics, and those were being replaced by gasoline-driven trucks. Howard Heinz was quietly bringing in college-bred chemists to apply scientific methods to the process lines and to do research. One of them, the late Herbert N. Riley, first head of quality control and a vice president, recalled: “In those days the moon was considered as having much to do with the success of food processing. … Every operation was secret and the man who possessed the secret guarded it jealously. … For instance, pickles. It seemed that only men with certain God-given knowledge could successfully salt cucumbers into pickles. They were men of some standing who wore top hats and cutaway coats and of whom the management stood somewhat in awe. The pickle salter was a fellow called Graves. He wouldn’t let anyone come into the place. I had to get a special permission or a special order even to let me in to see what was going on. His great thing was to put a finger into the pickle tanks, take it out with a great sweep, shove it into his mouth, suck it, and say, ‘Ah, yes, two bushels of salt in there , and three bushels of salt in here .’
“And spaghetti. I can still see the colorful Italian gentleman in charge of our spaghetti department, specially brought over from Italy, sticking his hand out the window to ‘feel’ the air to determine just how to adjust his drying process. I got a hygrometer for $400 and that was the end of the spaghetti expert.”
Howard Heinz, having introduced the new scientific era to the company’s operations, took a leave of absence at the end of World War I to become Herbert Hoover’s food commissioner in the Balkans. While he was away, on May 14, 1919, his father died of pneumonia. The Founder, as he has been called ever since, left an estate of four million dollars and many charitable bequests to friends, relatives, employees, and institutions. At his death the company he had started fifty years earlier had 6,500 employees, 100,000 acres in crops, 25 branch factories, 85 salting stations, 87 raw-produce stations, and 55 branch offices and warehouses. It owned a seed farm, factories for the manufacture of bottles, boxes, and cans, and 258 railroad cars. (By 1971 Heinz had companies in many parts of the world, and its sales have exceeded a billion dollars for the first time in its history.)
In recent years, marketing not 57 but over 1,200 “varieties” of food products as it moves into its second century, the Heinz Company has embraced such developments as prepackaged meat, frozen foods, freeze-dried foods, asceptic filling of dairy custard, flash sterilization, computer-controlled processing lines, and mechanical harvesting of fruits and vegetables. Some of these innovations surely would have seemed alien to H. J. Heinz; but just as surely he would be gratified to know that one of his favorite mottoes is still highly regarded by his successors: “Luck may help a man over a ditch—if he jumps well.”