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The New JELL-O Book of Surprises
General Foods Corporation, American
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Jell-O is a gelatin-based dessert that is sold as either prepared cups or in powdered form. The first patent for powdered gelatin was granted in 1845 to industrialist Peter Cooper. Pearle Wait purchased Cooper’s patent 40 years later, and his wife, May, is credited with the idea of adding fruit flavorings to the previously unflavored gelatin—strawberry, lemon, orange, and raspberry. Wait changed the name of the product to Jell-O in 1897 but was unable to make a profit, and sold the business and patent to Orator Francis Woodward in 1899.
Sales were initially slow until in 1902 Woodward’s company, the Genesee Pure Food Company, began placing advertisements in prominent magazines declaring Jell-O to be “America’s Most Famous Dessert.” In 1904 the company began sending out free Jell-O cookbooks, which was a new marketing ploy, and 10 years later sales were booming, new flavors were added, and the company began selling Jell-O in Canada. In 1923 the Genesee Pure Food Company officially changed its name to the Jell-O Company and then eventually formed the General Foods Corporation in 1927.
During the 1930s congealed salads became popular, and by the 1950s the overwhelming popularity of these salads prompted the company to introduce new flavors, including lime, seasoned tomato, Italian, and mixed vegetable. These salads were generally created in a shaped container called a mold, where the gelatin would be poured in, with small quantities of “extras” then added. Once hardened, the mold could be turned over onto a decorative plate and served. Jell-O instant pudding was introduced in 1936 and was an immediate hit. New flavors were continually added and old ones removed as they fell from popularity.
In 1964 the company adopted the popular marketing slogan “There’s always room for Jell-O,” and in 1974 comedian Bill Cosby became the official Jell-O spokesperson. In 1989 General Foods merged with Kraft Foods. Today there are over 150 products sold under the Jell-O brand name and approximately 300 million boxes of powdered Jell-O are sold in the United States each year alone.