The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh
(page 4 of 11)
By MARK HOUSER
images courtesy HEINZ
One of the world’s biggest food brands began in 1860 in Sharpsburg, where 16-year-old Henry J. Heinz sold grated horseradish from his mother’s garden door to door.
As the business burgeoned, Heinz added ketchup, sauerkraut, vinegar, pickles and dozens of other items to the product portfolio, but he stuck with “57 varieties” as a slogan because he liked the sound of that number (even though it lowballed the total).
Heinz was a master of promotion, not only with the pickle pins he introduced at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, but also with a giant Heinz pickle made of green light bulbs that was one of the first electric signs in Manhattan. Heinz always used clear glass bottles to emphasize the quality of his products and was a vocal advocate of federal regulations that became the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
Investors led by Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital paid $23 billion for the company in 2013, then merged it with another grocery goliath last year to create Kraft Heinz. The corporation employs approximately 700 in Pittsburgh, which shares co-headquarters status with Chicago.
While the company is best known for ketchup, its first offering was horseradish.
- Heinz sells 650 million bottles of ketchup every year. Most of the red stuff consumed in America is made at the company’s plant in Fremont, Ohio, near Toledo.
- A century ago, tourists in Atlantic City could visit the Heinz Pier for free samples, exhibits and displays. A hurricane destroyed the pier in 1944.
- Heinz gave its food workers freshly laundered uniforms daily, as well as weekly manicures. The factory complex had stained-glass windows inscribed with inspirational sayings for workers and visitors.
- In the United Kingdom, the company is best known not for ketchup but for baked beans, a breakfast staple often served on toast. On the cover of the 1967 album The Who Sell Out, lead singer Roger Daltrey poses in a bathtub full of the beans, holding a giant Heinz can.
- Heinz’s grandson, H.J. “Jack” Heinz, led efforts to create Downtown’s Cultural District, beginning with the renovation of the Loew’s Penn Theatre, now Heinz Hall.
- Great-grandson John Heinz was serving his third term in the U.S. Senate when he was killed in 1991 in a plane crash near Philadelphia. Pittsburgh’s Sen. John Heinz History Center is named in his honor.
“H.J. Heinz was an intuitive marketer. This kid learned on the streets of Pittsburgh as he hawked his mother’s horseradish sauce from a wheelbarrow Downtown. At the Chicago World’s Fair, they put him on the upper floor of the Agricultural Building, and I think there were like 100 steps, and there weren’t any elevators … So he took basically cardboard luggage tags coated with brass and hired street urchins to scatter them on the first floor. As couples walked along, they saw the glint of gold out of the corner of their eye so they picked up the tags. And it said to bring this to the Heinz booth for a free prize. The prize they got was a pickle pin — actually a charm, pressed out of sawdust and a kind of celluloid concoction, very cheap to produce. It had a little loop on it and they could put it on a fob … The other vendors on the upper floor thought Heinz was a genius. They were so pleased that they all chipped in and bought him a silver punch bowl and had their names engraved on it, thanking him for saving their businesses ... When Warren Buffett bought Heinz, he came and visited our Heinz exhibit at the history center. And as I walked through with him we got to the exhibit of Heinz soup store displays, and he said, ‘Boy, that takes me back to when I was a boy working in my parents’ grocery store. I was impressed that women would come in and ask for Heinz soup by name.’ It stayed with him all of these years what a powerful brand that was.”
— Andrew Masich, president and CEO, Sen. John Heinz History Center