Posted on 17 Aug 2015 20:09
This great Pinterest pin featuring a shelf full of 1930's food products is one among several interesting photos on nubbytwiglet. They are from a general store, as the writer puts it, "frozen in time," called Ruddys General Store Museum. There are many interesting things to look at on the page, including one shelf of soaps like Ivory, Lifebuoy, Lava, and Camay, ones you may not realize existed back then. On the top shelf of this particular display is a selection of "Gold Dust" soap products, such as washing powder, featuring the "Gold Dust Twins," one of the most racist advertising mascots ever.
However, this featured pin is a shelf full of packaged food products. There is a tin of Hershey's Chocolate, a large Pepsi-Cola tin, Campfire marshmallows, canned potato chips, and pretzels. Curiously, there are at least six brands of Malted Milk, including Carnation, Borden's, Nedlog, Thompson's and Horlick's. What gives? Does it have something to do with "malted" milk shakes? Why is there so much of this stuff?
Image © 2015, nubbytwiglet
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I've already written about malted milk here on CulinaryLore. Now, if you go to the grocery store, you will find cartons of powdered nonfat milk, usually nearby the cans of evaporated and condensed milk, and perhaps cartons of shelf-stable milk. However, during the later 1800's, there were several attempts to create a powdered form of whole milk. The problem was that powdered whole milk is not shelf-stable. It spoils. Malted milk was the answer to this problem. Horlick, on the the brands you see on the shelf, was the first successful brand. You can read all about it via the link above.
It was sold not only as a way of having a reconstitutable powdered form of milk, but as a very nutritious health food due to the malted barley and wheat it contained, which were touted as being a complete and highly nutritious food. Based on this, the first retail establishments that sold malted milk were drug stores, and the soda shops were in the drug stores, they found their way into milk shakes and, the rest is history.
As for the potato chips, I'm sure it is no surprise to you that they came in a can. Paper bags would not have kept out the moisture, although this would change when waxed paper came along around 1926, and then other moisture proof products, including cellophane.
We see one recognizable brand of potato chips on the bottom shelf, Wise. Wise is sometimes regarded as being the first brand of pre-packaged potato chips, and they were, at first, sold in a paper bag but only locally at first. Before this, commercial potato chips were sold in bulk. Jay's, another brand visible, was also a major chipper of the time, founded in 1927 and still selling salty snacks today, out of Hanover, the snack food capital of the world.
Laura Scudder was the first person to place potato chips into sealed wax paper bags, during the 1920's, around the time Herman Lay gave a huge boost to the potato chip industry by inventing the mechanical potato chip peeler.
Ironically, during the 1970's, when Pringles came on the scene, in their canister that looked like a tennis-ball can, there was much controversy in the potato chip industry, not only because Pringles were made from dried reconstituted potatoes but because they came in a can. Other similar products soon followed such as Frito-Lay Munchos (I kind of love Munchos), Dittos, Crunch Bunch, General Mills, Mrs. Bumby's Potato Chips, and, believe it or not, Planters Potato Chips.
In Crunch!: A History of the Great American Potato Chip, author Dick Burhans includes a quote from a Comedian named Mark Russel, on the PBS MacNeil/Lehrer report in 1975:
My fellow Americans, I believe that the quality of life in America today is deteriorating because of the presence in your homes of canned potato chips. May I say that the Pringles controversy is an ever-growing menace. When we were children, were potato chips packed in an air-tight can? No, potato chips were meant to be free — BORN FREE - bouncing around in a little bag.
All Pringles are exactly the same. You can buy one in Washington, D.C., then go out to San Francisco and buy another that's exactly the same. Now, if that isn't Communism, I don't know what is.
I think he probably would have been better off with a Jerry Seinfeld approach, "Canned potato chips? What's up with that?" The sameness of Pringles may have been unique, but the fact that they were in a can certainly was nothing new. Wise and Jay's had a few things to day about the newfangled processed chips. Traditional chip companies were convinced that processed potato chips like Pringles (no longer allowed to be called potato chips) would hurt their sales, and damage the industry. In the end, Pringles only boosted sales of regular potato chips, and improved the industry by forcing companies to turn out higher-quality and more consistent potato chips.
Although most sources seem to insist that the first packaged potato chips were sold in paper bags, waxed paper bags, or cellophane, this was only one possibility and potato chips in cans were quite common. In fact, many of these potato chip tins are valuable collector's items today. If you look around the web, you will find many photos of old potato chip cans or "tins," including Lays, Charles, Old Dutch, Bon Ton, Husmans's, and Bickells, as well as Jay's and Wise. However, some of these tins represent tins used for potato chip delivery services, in which the chips would be delivered in tins and then the consumer could give the empty tins back to the driver so that it could be reused.
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