According to an internal publication about ketchup: “Perfect tomatoes for the purpose cannot be satisfactorily obtained on the open market, and therefore H.J. Heinz Company supervises the cultivation of its own tomatoes from the very selection of the seed and the preparation of the soil.”
Henry Heinz also controlled the purity of his products by managing its employees. Attempting to prevent contamination of products by workers, he required them to change into clean uniforms before beginning work — sanitary white for men and blue and white striped dresses with white aprons for women. The company also provided showers in the locker rooms so workers could bathe regularly, not a common practice in the early 20th century.
Women who handled food received weekly treatments from the company manicurist. Dirty hands and nails could contaminate an entire batch of food. The modern sanitary plant that Heinz described in corporate and promotional articles from the 1890s through the 1920s emphasized the cleanliness of workers. The company also offered daily tours of the Pittsburgh factory, allowing consumers to judge for themselves.
Yet, no matter how effective it was at instilling quality in its products, the company still needed to convince consumers that the Heinz name was synonymous with purity. Tens of thousands of people were able to taste its products at food expositions, where demonstrations were performed by so-called pickle girls.
The personal interactions of Heinz’s traveling salesmen and pickle girls with customers and grocers contributed to America’s transition to industrialized food. By caring for products, talking about the virtues of Heinz pure foods and allowing the nation taste these items, the public grew to embrace aliments made in a factory, relegating the fear of poisoned canned foods to the distant past.
Gabriella M. Petrick, professor of nutrition and food studies and history at George Mason University, is the author of “Industrializing Taste: Food Processing and the Transformation of the American Diet, 1900-1965.”