Friday, February 27, 2009

There's always room

My mother became concerned when I was young that my fingernails were too thin and brittle. I don’t recall them being particularly weak, but I was only 8 or 9 so for all I know they were shockingly abnormal and something had to be done about them. So for a brief period I was made to eat a great deal of Jell-O. I hate Jell-O. I hated it when I was a child, and I hate it now. It’s not so much able the flavors as it is about the texture. The unnatural feeling of Jell-O in my mouth still provokes my throat to clamp shut and results in dramatic and embarrassing convulsions. I have nothing against the Jell-O corporation, however. Many people enjoy their fine and low fat product. But as I write I can feel the raspberry Jell-O sliding around on my tongue, and I’m already woozy.

Previously, I mentioned that Peter Cooper invented Jell-O. That is only mostly true. As with most inventions, there was no single moment when the elements all came together and began to jiggle. Jell-O took a journey.

The Jell-O museum describes the history of the substance--

Really, the desert Jell-O was created based on Cooper’s original gelatin setting process (having purchased the patent) by Pearle and May Wait. Pearle was a man. The Waits tried to market the product, but lacked the capital to do so, so the patent, along with the name Jell-O, were purchased again by the fantastically names Orator F. Woodward.

Orator F. Woodward produced not only Jell-O, but also Grain-O, a “roasted cereal coffee ‘for those who can’t drink tea and coffee.’” Grain-O sales apparently paid for the development and promotion of Jell-O. This product intrigued me, mostly because Grain-O conjures up images of both plumbing products and an overabundance of fiber in the diet. To the library!

I found the following advertisement for Grain-O in “A Collection of Delectable Recipes, Tried and True” published by the Unitarian Church out of Waterville, ME in 1898.

I have reproduced the format to the best of my ability.


…is a…


It takes the place of coffee. It is a table
beverage which the children may drink
without injury, as well as the adult. Grain-O
looks and tastes like coffee, but it made
from pure grains, and the most delicate
stomach receives it without stress.

It’s Nourishing and Strengthening.

A lady said: “The first cup I used I did not
like it, but after using it a week nothing
could induce me to go back to coffee.”


Prepared by the
Genesee Pure Food Company

Le Roy, New York

15c and 25c per package Sold by all grocers.

Ah, Grain-O. Try it and you won’t like it, but eventually you’ll get used to the taste and become addicted to it! Try it! TRY IT!

Grain-O was apparently extremely popular for a time, as apparently sentiment against coffee was high, and people wanted their children to be able to drink bitter things.

From the New York Times, on May 24, 1897, “the great $50,000 damage suit instituted by a Michigan Cereal Company against the Genesee Pure Food company is at an end. They settled it and took it out of court for the ridiculously small sum of $500, and, as a practical result, Grain-O is in greater demand than ever. The new plant, only just completed, is to be duplicated, so that not only the old friends of the delicious food drink, which completely takes the place of coffee, but the new friends it is making every day, can be supplied. The beverage which the children, as well as the adult, may drink with benefit, will be furnished in unlimited quantities. Suits may come and suits may go, but Grain-O goes on forever—N.Y. Mail and Express.”

The above is not an advertisement, but a news release, ever so slightly biased.

Grain-O was one of many cereal based coffee substitues on the market at the time. The Publications of the Maine Agriculture Experiement Station published in 1901 lists several which it subjected to analyses of solubility and nutritional content (pages 103-105).
Postum Cereal (Postum Cereal Company, Battle Creek Michigan)
Caramel Cereal (Battle Creek Sanitarium Health Food Company, Battle Creek, Michigan)
Golden Grain Coffee (John A Tibbs, Buffalo, NY...not actually coffee)
Old Grist Mill Entire Wheat Coffee (Potter and Wrightington, Boston, Mass...not actually coffee)
Grain-O (Genesee Pure Food Company, Le Roy, NY)
Dr. Johnson's Cereal Coffee (Johnson Food Educator Food Store, Boston, Mass...not coffee)
Mo-Ko (John F. Bauer and Company, Mt. Morris NY)
Don't these all just sound scrumptious!
Postum Cereal drink was actually sold until 2007, sometimes with the aid of Mr. Coffee Nerves!
Next stop...the Woodward family and the cereal wars.

On the first day

The purpose of this blog is to serve a repository for the major and minor American historical facts I stumble upon in my reading and research. It is an entirely selfish pursuit, a place to store the funny facts I find in libraries, on ye olde internets, and in my travels. For the most part, I will be focusing on the northeastern united states because, well, there’s just more “history” to be found there. I’m also a New England gal, born and raised, and proud of it.

Typically, I will write in the same manner in which I ramble to my family and friends. I will start at one point, and end somewhere. It may be somewhere completely different. I’m just going to write until I get bored.

This is not a political blog. Events will be described simply as they happened and without judgment (as much as I can possibly withhold it). Political parties and issues will obviously be discussed. But I won’t be stating my unsolicited opinion on the politics involved.

I will include folklore as it relates to descriptions of actual locations and events, but I will not present these stories as fact in and of themselves.

I spend the majority of my formative years in Winsted, CT, and as a result many of my early entries will be about or mention the history of Winsted and the Litchfeild county area. I will branch out as I go on, I promise.

I love history. I do not take it all terribly seriously. For thousands of years, man kind has been ridiculous. The entries in this blog will often reflect that fact.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I will.

Start point 1: The Greenbacks

I actually started looking into the Greenbacks after reading a piece on the history of the Winsted, CT press. The Winsted Press, according to William Jamieson Pape’s “The History of Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley (page 426), was for sometime a “Greenback” supporting paper, endorsing 3 consecutive Greenback candidates for the presidency.

History Channel website! Make this easy for me!


Why thank you History Channel website…oh, there’s something stuck in your…ah, there it is.



Oh good lord, I’ve immediately stepped into a pile not days into starting my non-political blog. Well, let’s play it safe and stick to the trivia!

Okay, square one…the first “Great [American] Depression” took place in the early 1870s. During this time there were still a lot of farmers in this country, and they were a significant political force, though not necessarily the majority they once were. We’re still fairly fresh out of the civil war, the economy is in the turlet, and the farmers, bankers, and manufacturers are freaking out. In 1874, the Greenback party was born in Indianapolis.

The Greenbacks advocated a purely government controlled monetary system, as opposed to money being controlled and largely issued by the banks. During the civil war, the government had issued ‘greenbacks,’ money assigned value by federal control rather than the banks, and backed by the government rather than by gold. They believed that continuing to issue greenbacks would keep more money in circulation, reviving the economy and making it possible for farmers and manufacturers to pay off debts, and keeping the value of goods and services out of the control of the banks.

Winsted being a town divided between manufacturers, laborers and farmers, it makes sense that there would be some popular support there for the Greenbacks and their bastard children, the Greenback-Labor party of farmers and laborers. Neither party survived long under the “Greenback” name, but their values were a major contributor to the American labor movement.

The Greenbacks' (just Greenbacks) first and only candidate for the presidency was Peter Cooper. Who was he? New Yorkers should know!

Peter Cooper was an inventor, philanthropist, manufacturer, and strange beard enthusiast who is perhaps best known to New Yorkers as the man behind Cooper Union, where you can go be a piano genius or some such thing for free. Peter Cooper village was names after him as well (and not, as is popularly believed, after this guy: He was one of those good guy progressive types with the kind of ideas you still here good guy progressive types talking about today. He was a champion of reform in the way American Indians were treated, and an advocate for their rights. He was an abolitionist, natch. He pushed for the free education of working class men and WOMEN (educating the women…I’ll have to do an entry on the dangers of that). He was also a critic of the debt based economy (gee, good thing that went away!) and the gold standard. He was a pretty well known and important figure in American History, ladies and gents. But he got beat out by Rutherford B. Hayes, who I imagine fewer New Yorkers are able to identify.

Peter Cooper had only one son, Edward Cooper, who would go on to become mayor of New York City for one term. Cooper was succeeded as mayor by his business partner, Abram Stevens Hewitt. Edward Cooper, Hewitt, and Samuel Tilden (who had run against Edward’s father Peter for the presidency, fancy that) had all banded together to take down the Tweed Ring. Hewitt had joined Peter and Edward Cooper’s iron making business, and produced gun barrel iron for the government at no profit during the civil war. He also contributed to Cooper Union’s endowment. When he ran for mayor, one of the men he defeated was Theodore Roosevelt. Neat! (this is all according to Encyclopedia Britannica).

Edward Cooper proceeded to then do nothing. Well, historically. Poor Edward lived out his days as an extraordinarily wealthy and influential footnote in his father’s story. According to “Inside Greenwich Village,” by Gerald W. McFarland (pages 83-84), Cooper enjoyed a sizable mansion on Washington Square Park, the only industrialist maintaining such a prestigious address at the time. Edward, like his father, was dedicated to the education of the working class (I refrain here from discussing the irony of that commitment). He maintained one of the largest house staffs in the area. Cooper lived with his daughter, son in law, and grandchildren, and lots of white servants as black servants were out of fashion following the civil war. Irish was the new black!

Speaking of the Irish, Cooper and Hewitt were preceded followed as mayors of New York by an Irishman, William Russell Grace. Grace was the first Irish Catholic mayor of NYC.

Grace was, along with the Coopers, an opponent of the Tweed group.

To return to Peter Cooper and get away from politics for a bit…Peter Cooper invented Jell-O.

The Jell-O museum:

To be continued!