America’s 10 Oldest Food and Drink Companies
September 17, 2015
These companies have been around for a lot longer than you think
America’s 10 Oldest Food and Drink Companies
Companies come and go, but there are some out there that have truly stood the test of time. In fact, some food and drink brands in your supermarket have been around since Colonial times! Read on to learn which 10 American food and drink companies have stuck around the longest.
#10 Pepsi-Cola: 1898
#9 Jell-O: 1897
Gelatin, made from collagen extracted from boiled bones and other animal products, has been used in food preparation since the 1400s, and purified, powdered gelatin was invented in 1845 by industrialist Peter Cooper (prior to that it was only available in sheets, which were much more expensive). In 1898, a LeRoy, New York-based carpenter and cough syrup manufacturer named Pearly Bixby Wait trademarked a combination of granulated gelatin, sugar, and flavoring called Jell-O. The first flavors were strawberry, raspberry, orange, and lemon. No word on when the first Jell-O shot was taken.
#8 Coca-Cola: 1886
Coca Cola / Wikimedia Commons
Coke has some fascinating roots: a Confederate Colonel named John Pemberton was wounded in the Civil War and subsequently became addicted to morphine, which he set out on a quest to find a less dangerous substitute for. His first effort was called French Wine Coca nerve tonic, which Pemberton first sold through his Columbus, Georgia drug store in 1885; It contained both wine and cocaine, and was marketed toward upper class intellectuals. The following year, however, the county passed prohibition legislation, so Pemberton removed the alcohol and developed the first formula for Coca-Cola, which he sold as a "patent medicine" in soda fountains for five cents a glass.
#7: Folgers, 1872
Before 1850, if San Franciscans wanted to make their own coffee they had to purchase green coffee beans, roast them, and grind them themselves. This all changed that year when William H. Bovee, the owner of the Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills, built a mill that allowed him to sell pre-roasted, ground coffee. To help build his mill, Bovee hired a carpenter named James A. Folger. After working at the mill for a year, Folger set off to mine for gold and brought coffee samples with him, which he gave to grocery stores he encountered along the way. Folger returned to San Francisco in 1865 and became a full partner, going on to buy out the other partners and rename the company J.A. Folger & Co. in 1872.
#6: Pillsbury, 1872
The J.M. Smucker Company / ItemMaster
Charles Alfred Pillsbury founded C.A. Pillsbury and Company along with his uncle, John S. Pillsbury, in Minneapolis in 1872. Pillsbury was the second company in the United States to use steel rollers for grain processing, and because the finished product needed to be transported, the Pillsburys were actually a primary funder of railroad development in Minnesota. The Doughboy didn’t come around until 1965.
#5 Tabasco, 1868
When Edmund McIlhenny and his wife Mary Eliza first settled Avery Island, Louisiana, in 1859, he realized that the foundation of basically the entire island was salt. During the Civil War, salt was in seriously short supply, so he made a mint harvesting it and selling it to the Confederates. His entire operation was ransacked by the Union army, but when McIlhenny inspected his land after the war was over, he noticed something growing from the ground: a tabasco pepper. McIlhenny planted tabasco peppers all over the island, and started selling his hot sauce, made with those peppers and Avery Island salt, in 1868.
#4 Jim Beam, 1795
In the late 1700s, the Böhm family emigrated from Germany to Kentucky, changing their name along the way to Beam. Johannes “Reginald” Beam, a farmer, began producing whiskey in the style that would eventually become known as bourbon, and sold his first barrel of corn whiskey, which he called Old Jake Beam, in 1795.
#3 King Arthur Flour, 1790
In 1790, a Boston entrepreneur named Henry Wood launched a company specializing in importing and distributing English-milled flour, which grew in success over the following decades. In 1895, they launched a new product called King Arthur Flour (with a name inspired by the hit musical of the day, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table), and it became their flagship product.
#2 Laird & Company, 1780
Laird’s is the oldest licensed distillery in the United States, founded in 1780 by Robert Laird, who served in the Continental Army under George Washington during the Revolutionary War. In fact, Washington was so enamored with Laird’s family recipe for applejack, which he called “cyder spirits,” that he asked Laird for the recipe and began distilling it himself. Laird first began bottling and selling his applejack commercially in 1780, and it’s still popular today.
#1 Baker’s Chocolate, 1764
In 1764, two men by the name of John Hannon and Dr. James Baker started importing cacao beans and producing chocolate in Dorcester, Massachusetts, making them the oldest producer of chocolate in the United States. For 15 years, the duo produced chocolate under the company name Hannon’s Best Chocolate, but when Hannon went on a cacao-gathering trip to the West Indies in 1779, and never returned, Baker changed the company name to Baker Chocolate Company. As far as we can tell, in the American food and drink world, no company is older.