Historical Markers
Henry J. Heinz [Industries] Historical Marker
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Henry J. Heinz [Industries]

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
16th St. Bridge, North Side, Pittsburgh

Dedication Date:
September 14, 1994

Behind the Marker

Oil on canvas portrait of Henry J. Heinz, wearing a suit, vest, and tie.
Henry J. Heinz, by Albert F. King, 1915.
Henry J. Heinz, the man world famous for his "57 Varieties," came from humble origins, but through hard work, business sense, and skill he built a processed foods empire based in Pittsburgh. A progressive businessman, he built clean and safe factories, supported the landmark 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, and gave generously of his wealth, especially in his native Pittsburgh.

Heinz was the son of German immigrants, Henry and Anna Margaretha Schmitt Heinz. Born in 1844, Henry was the first of eight children. In 1850, Henry Sr. bought a brickyard in Sharpsburg, a few miles east of Pittsburgh. Under the watchful eye of his commanding, yet loving mother, young Henry began managing the family garden and selling excess produce on the streets. By age twelve he had expanded the garden to several acres. In addition to gardening, he attended private Lutheran schools, helped his father in the brickyard, and did odd jobs.

Henry's mother proved instrumental in directing her son toward his future career. In his late teens, Henry began selling her prepared horseradish to housewives, grocers, and hotel kitchens. He bottled the horseradish in clear glass to show its purity and it became a big seller. At a time when housewives shunned prepared food, Henry realized that they would buy a quality product, especially if it saved them considerable preparation time.
Color image of the Heinz complex bordering the railroad tracks and the river, which is full of steam ships.
H. J. Heinz Company's main plant and general offices.

In 1869, Heinz and a partner opened Anchor Pickle and Vinegar Works. For the first few years, business prospered, employing in 1872 one hundred workers and selling sauerkraut, pickles, vinegar, and horseradish under the name of Heinz, Noble and Company. Heinz paid attention to the raw vegetables he processed, consulting with government officials and county agents on improving farming practices. In 1875, Heinz and Noble suffered a major setback by agreeing to buy the entire output of a large farm at what turned out to be high prices. By the end of the year, the men filed for bankruptcy.

By Valentine's Day, 1876, Heinz was back in business. His cousin Frederick and his brother John formed the F and J Heinz Company with the bankrupt Henry as its secret manager. That same year, Heinz added a new line to his production, a red tomato-based sauce known originally as "catsup." Heinz adopted advanced technology in the plant. Refrigerated railcars, steam pressure-cooking, and vacuum-packed cans preserved food much longer, thus enabling Heinz to reach broader markets.

A black and white 1903 image of two Heinz girls, wearing long dresses, white caps and aprons,  filling bottles at studio.
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Heinz "girls" filling bottles at studio, 1903.
Convinced that the company's future lay in an international market, Heinz began frequent trips to Europe in 1886. On his first trip to England, Heinz scored a major victory. An excellent salesman, Heinz nonchalantly walked into the offices of Fortnum and Mason, food purveyors to the royal family. In a few moments, he had a contract to sell them all of his condiments. In later years, he established production and sales facilities in Britain and Canada.

In 1888, Heinz bought out his brother and cousin and renamed the company H. J. Heinz. He set out to modernize the facilities once more and in 1890 began moving the enterprise out of downtown Pittsburgh to the North Side. By 1898, he had erected seventeen modern brick structures around a green courtyard. Rail lines ran through the center of the plant. Heinz the salesman used the reconstruction to boost sales, offering guided tours through the state-of-the-art works.

In addition to technological improvements, Heinz recognized the importance of advertising and branding. In 1896, Heinz coined the term "57 Varieties" while riding an elevated train in New York. A car card advertising "21 styles" of shoes triggered an instant reaction in his head. "57" was the number he chose, although the company manufactured more than fifty-seven different products. He plastered "57" wherever he could, from newspapers to billboards to electric light displays on roofs of buildings. He even set "Heinz 57" in concrete blocks on hillsides along major roadways.
A wagon with a H. J. Heinz with open rails is loaded with barrels. A driver sits atop the wagon in a seat and holds the reins of three horses, two black, on each side of a white horse that is harnessed in the center.  The wagon is parked outside of the H.J. Heinz company.
An H.J. Heinz Company delivery wagon delivers pickling barrels, Pittsburgh,...

As his empire grew, Heinz took steps to ensure labor peace in his plants. He instilled the notion that managers at all levels should check on employees and listen and respond to their grievances. Moreover, his new factory was designed with safety and cleanliness in mind. Not only would the new atmosphere keep contaminants out of ketchup and pickle jars, but it would "improve" his workforce.
Color image of an Advertisement for Heinz Pickles and Products: 57 varieties.  Women bottling pickles in the Heinz kitchen.
Advertisement for Heinz Pickles and Food Products, circa 1910.

Heinz the progressive used his growing influence to steer politicians in Washington in reform directions as well. He organized a lobbying campaign for a federal pure food law. After months of congressional debate, in 1906 Congress passed and Theodore Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act. Not coincidentally, Heinz benefited greatly from the new legislation, which he could use to convince skeptical housewives that his "57 Varieties" were safe for their children. Again, Heinz used a partnership with government to solidify his business.

Heinz the man insisted that "heart power was more important than horsepower." He conducted Sunday school for decades at the various Protestant churches he attended. For several years, he served as the director of the State Sunday School Association. In addition to volunteering his time, Heinz gave away much of his fortune. He donated to universities, local charities, and civic organizations. He established Pittsburgh boys and girls clubhouses with staff members to care for troubled children. He also did his part to clean up a tenement district near his plant by buying rental properties throughout the neighborhood and evicting the "undesirables" and prostitutes.

Henry J. Heinz died at age 74 in 1919. Heinz's optimism, his business savvy, and his indomitable spirit led him from obscurity as a horseradish peddler to worldwide fame. His "57 Varieties" continue to fill refrigerators and pantries around the world.

To learn more about the early history of the H. J. Heinz Company markerclick here
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