There’s always room for a Jell-o Museum
Massachusetts certainly isn’t the only place in the world with interesting things to see.
One Pink Slip commenter – who shall remain anonymous because she was anonymous – noted that she’d paid a visit to the Jell-O Gallery in LeRoy, NY, part of the LeRoy Historical Society. It’s in LeRoy because Jell-o was invented, or discovered, or however it came into being, in LeRoy.
In 1897, Pearle Wait, a carpenter in LeRoy, was putting up a cough remedy and laxative tea in his home. He experimented with gelatine and came up with a fruit flavored dessert which his wife, May, named Jell-O. He tried to market his product but he lacked the capital and the experience. In 1899 he sold his formula to a fellow townsman for the sum of $450.
“Putting up a cough remedy and laxative tea” – were they one in the same? But isn’t that just the serendipity by which great discoveries are made. Think about how Elmer’s Glue-all was spawned through a quest for a coffee creamer.
Anyway, while Pearle gets credit for the invention, let’s give it up for May – marketing genius, par excellence – for coming up with the name Jell-o. Just think, no focus groups, no $1 million branding brainstorming, and the damned name has stood the test of over 100 years time. May, babe, you knew how to name product!
But that $450. Pearlie, Pearlie, Pearlie, what were you thinking when you sold this formula at not-so-great price? Sure, 450 bucks in 1899 would be worth more today, but only about $11K more. I do sympathize with Pearle, May, and their descendants. I’m quite certain that if I ever came up with an idea, I’d end up selling it cheap, too.
Of course, Pearle and May, despite May’s clear marketing bent, may not have had the chops needed to commercialize their discovery. Having worked for a couple of companies that didn’t have Clue One how to take a great technology idea and actually figure out how to package and sell it, I know the feeling. (Hell, we didn’t even have May’s naming knack. You may recall my mentioning that I’ve worked on products named ATF and AutoBJ.)
The fellow who bought Pearle out, Orator Frank Woodward, was a successful businessman, having:
…engaged in the manufacture of a composition nest egg with "miraculous power to kill lice on hens when hatching." This became a widely known and used product in the United States and Canada.
I guess killing lice on hens is proximate to the food business, but now Orator was in the food biz, with Grain-O, apparently some drink (which sounds way too much like Dran-O for me to want to take a quaff), and Jell-O.
Overtime, Jell-O got marketed, sold, and famous. The rest of Jell-O history is history. The product is now owned by Kraft Food.
Ah, Jell-o. As it’s early packaging had it: Delicate. Delightful. Dainty. Which are not necessarily attributes I would associate with Jell-O. I’m thinking more along the lines of: Tasty. Slimy. Fun.
Too bad LeRoy is a bit out of my way. I am in upstate NY a few times a year, but don’t usually get past Syracuse, which puts the Jell-o Gallery about 100 miles out of reach. Darn!
While I can’t get there easily, I can buzz the online gift shop, and maybe order me up a tee-shirt. I was always more of a red or orange Jell-o person, but I do like the grape shirt. I must say I could have lived without that “Watch it wiggle, See it jiggle” caption over the boxer shorts. Giving equal opportunity to the distaff side, it’s also the tagline on the aprons. Just below the breastline. Oy!
They’ve got a lot of stuff for sale, but they’re missing a beat on the Christmas ornaments. I have one that’s a bright green Jell-o mold. I hang it on my tree each year in honor of my mother, a Jello-o molder from way back. Sure, I made plenty of fun of those molds, but I rather liked the orange with the shredded carrots and pineapples. And the strawberry one with the strawberries and nuts. Not to mention the classic Waldorf, with celery, apples, and nuts, that was made with the golden apple Jell-o of yore.
My mother hailed from the Midwest, and I’ve always associated Jell-o molds with that neck of the woods. I was on business once, at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Illinois, and when we went to the caf for lunch, I was heartened/amused/shocked to see that there were all sorts of Jell-o things to be had.
Jell-o, of course, has its own website, where you can find out about all sorts of nifty Jell-O things. It includes dozens of “recipes”, including those that are alcohol-related, travel-friendly, showstoppers, holiday-themed, and something called first-time-host. (Or was it last-time-host. I’ll have to go back and check.) I also saw that Jell-O now has mousse. Say it ain’t so! That’s way to fancy-pants and upscale for me.
I’m going grocery shopping later.
Do you think Whole Foods carries Jell-O?