Historical Markers
Henry J. Heinz Historical Marker
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Henry J. Heinz

Pittsburgh Region


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

Dedication Date:
August 1, 1949

Behind the Marker

Gelatin Silver Print of a dapper looking John  Heinz, standing with his thumbs tucked into his pockets while his hands rest at the hip, wearing a suit, white shirt tie, checked vest, and watch fob. He has gray balding hair and a large gray mustache is this three quarter length image.
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Henry John Heinz, by Pach Brothers Studio, c. 1914.
There wasn't a dry eye - or nose - in the house! Eyes watered and noses ran as sixteen-year-old Henry J. Heinz worked in the kitchen grating piles of horseradish to make up batches of the condiment he planned to sell to his neighbors in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania.

Following his mother's recipe, Heinz cooked the grated root with salt and vinegar, put the mixture in clean, airtight bottles, and then boiled them so the pungent sauce inside wouldn't spoil. He added his bottles of horseradish to a market basket of fresh produce he had raised in the family garden, then headed out to sell it all door-to-door.

Everything sold. In short order, the budding entrepreneur replaced the market basket with a wheelbarrow, and soon exchanged that for a horse and wagon which he used to cart his "pure and superior" horseradish, sauerkraut, vegetables, and vinegar to grocers five miles away in Pittsburgh. His little business proved to be a great success. When he died in 1919, this son of German immigrants was president of one of the largest and most successful food processing companies in the United States.
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.

When Henry Heinz first started to sell his horseradish in 1860, most American families made and preserved their own provisions. August and September were very busy months for rural women and children in Pennsylvania and across the country as they worked feverishly in their kitchens to preserve the harvest from the fields that would feed their families in the fall and winter months.

In the late-1800s, without artificial refrigeration in homes, a very popular way to keep fruit and vegetables was to cook them with sugar or salt and vinegar, then place the mixture in clean, air-tight jars and cook the whole thing in boiling water to keep the contents from going bad. Jams, jellies, pickles, sauces, and relishes in carefully processed and sealed glass containers, women then stored on shelves in a cellar or pantry for use through spring.

Most families made their own pickles or preserves, canning their cucumbers, peaches, peppers, tomatoes, other garden produce - and sometimes meat - with special family recipes passed from one generation to the next. Pennsylvania German farmers were famous for a number of these preserved foods, including apple butter, chow-chow (a sweet and sour pickle relish made of various vegetables), horseradish, and sauerkraut.

To convince prospective customers that his horseradish was pure and wholesome - just like homemade - Heinz used clear bottles, instead of the traditional green, to show customers that his was "unadulterated" horseradish contained no leaves, grated turnip, sawdust, small chunks of wood, or other foreign substances that unscrupulous manufacturers often added. Consumers quickly recognized the quality of his product and soon sales of Heinz's expanded line of horseradish, pickles, sauerkraut, and vinegar were brisk.

In 1861, the seventeen-year-old Heinz made $2,400, a princely sum considering that privates in the Union infantry only made $13 a month. Five years later, Heinz and partner L. Clarence Noble formed Heinz and Noble. The company operated out of the basement and first floor of the Heinz's former farmhouse until the partners moved the business to Pittsburgh in 1872. Taking out loans to expand operations, Heinz and Noble by 1875 owned 100 acres of cropland along the Allegheny River, two dozen horses, twelve wagons, and a vinegar factory in St. Louis. And then the bottom fell out, as a nationwide banking crisis forced the overextended company into bankruptcy.

H. J. Heinz Company advertising cart for its preserved sweet pickles, 1890.
Heinz Pickles Marketing Cart, 1890.
Undaunted, Heinz immediately restarted his business with his cousin Frederick and his brother John. In 1875, "F. and Heinz" introduced a new product - tomato ketchup. It is likely that Americans had acquired a taste for this condiment from the British who had used it in their cooking since the early eighteenth century. By the mid-nineteenth century, cookbooks in the United States contained recipes for several varieties of ketchup - including mushroom, tomato, and walnut.

Heinz was not the first commercial tomato ketchup manufacturer, but he was the first to offer a product that was consistently delicious, high quality, and pure. It was a hit. Other new Heinz products soon followed - apple butter and baked beans, chili sauce and cider vinegar, mincemeat, mustard, olives, and green and red pepper sauces, pickled cauliflower and pickled onions, sweet pickles, and tomato soup.

In 1882, the company went national when it opened a branch sales office in Philadelphia. Four years later, Heinz traveled to London, where the taster for the prestigious firm of Fortnum and Mason was so impressed by Heinz's products that the company signed a contract to carry the Heinz line. In 1905, Heinz opened his own factories in Britain and soon became one of the "Purveyors to the Queen."

As railroads helped to link the United States into an integrated national economic system, manufacturers pioneered the use of new forms of advertising to convince customers to buy their nationally "branded" goods rather than locally produced foods and products. Recognizing the opportunities created by the emerging national and global market economies, Heinz eagerly embraced aggressive and innovative advertising to sell his products. When he and other American food exhibitors had their booths placed in a remote area of the 1894 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Heinz distributed tokens throughout the fairgrounds that visitors could exchange at the Heinz booth for pickle-shaped pins with the company name on them. The ploy led to a virtual tidal wave of visitors.
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.

In 1896 Heinz introduced a new slogan, "57 Varieties," that quickly became synonymous with his name and products. In 1898 he opened Heinz Pier in one of the nation's most popular resort towns, Atlantic City, New Jersey, a place where vacationers could see some of the company's many "good things for the table" being made, sample them, buy them, and leave with a free pickle pin. In 1900 Heinz contracted O. J. Guide to build New York City's first electric sign. Located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, it was six stories tall, included a 40-foot pickle with his name on it and the slogan "57 Varieties," all illuminated by 1,200 lights.

The H. J. Heinz Company was also an industry pioneer in the adoption of new systems of quality control and scientific processing, and established its own agricultural research programs to ensure that the company could grow the best varieties of vegetables for its products. By 1915, the H. J. Heinz Company had sixteen branch factories in Canada, England, and Spain. Four years later, the company's founder died of pneumonia at the age of seventy-five.

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the H. J. Heinz Company is a global corporation. One of the world's leading food processors, it owns many other brand names and produces thousands of products.

To learn more about Henry J. Heinz and the later history of the H. J. Heinz Company markerclick here
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