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Baking Powder WarsThe Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking$

Linda Civitello

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041082

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252041082.001.0001

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The Advertising War Begins

The Advertising War Begins

“Is the Bread That We Eat Poisoned?” 1876–1888

(p.51) Chapter 4 The Advertising War Begins
Baking Powder Wars

Linda Civitello

University of Illinois Press

Abstract and Keywords

In the 1870s, with scores of companies jumping on the baking powder band wagon and using newspapers, magazines, and trade cards to advertise, Royal pioneered ideological warfare that claimed its competitors’ products were adulterated or poisonous. Royal also published The Royal Baker and Pastry Chef, a corporate cookbook that glorified its products and educated female consumers about them. In the West, baking powder was adopted readily by Scandinavian immigrants but was given to Native Americans on reservations to make wheat-based instead of corn-based breadstuffs as part of forced assimilation.

Keywords:   advertising, ideological warfare, trade cards, assimilation, poison, Scandinavian, corporate cookbook

The Baking Powder War: Is the Bread That We Eat Poisoned by Alum or Is It Not?—When Doctors Disagree, Who Shall Decide? … A Question of Interest to Every Family

[Brooklyn] Daily Eagle, 1878

The pioneers … in advertising, were the patent medicine men, with circuses and tobacco vendors close behind.

James Harvey Young, The Toadstool Millionaires, 1961

During the Gilded Age, a time of increasing secularity, the American dream began to be measured in merchandise. On the surface, advertisers were selling baking powder, patent medicines, or cereal. However, they were redefining “the American dream in terms of a consumption ethic.”1 In the case of baking powder, it was a literal consumption ethic. Baking powder’s role in this ethic was to provide the means to a life of the luxurious baked goods that previously had been available only at great expense of either time or money. With baking powder—the right baking powder—all luxury and indulgence were achievable and affordable; life could be a party. Cake was one symbol of a rise in the standard of living that occurred in Gilded Age America, which saw a dramatic increase in the buying power of the food dollar: “in 1898 one dollar could buy 43 percent more rice than in 1872, 35 percent more beans, 49 percent more tea, 51 percent more roasted coffee, 114 percent more sugar, 62 percent more mutton, 25 percent more fresh pork, 60 percent more lard and butter, and 42 percent more milk.”2

Advertising was the ideological warfare that businesses waged to get more of this consumer dollar. Truth in advertising was not a concept in the nineteenth century. There was no government regulation of advertising claims, just as there (p.52) was no regulation of food or drugs. Patent medicine salesmen made fantastic, hyperbolic claims. Their products could cure headaches, weight loss, back pain, dyspepsia, nervousness, and cancer, and they had the fake statistics to prove it.3 Patent medicines and soothing syrups did make people feel good in the short run, because they contained as much as 23 percent cocaine, morphine, and/or alcohol. Take four times a day.4

As with science and business, nineteenth-century advertising straddled the premodern and the modern. Baking powder companies, like other American businesses, used the advertising tactics that had been introduced by peripatetic patent medicine salesmen. With post–Civil War urbanization, advertising became more sophisticated as businesses sought new ways to brand their products and woo consumers. Men at baking powder companies countered women’s community cookbooks and pioneered a new form of advertising: the corporate cookbook. New technologies such as color lithography made pictures available in addition to text on another new form of advertising: trade cards.

Before newspaper advertising became widespread after the Civil War, businesses reached consumers through personal contact and tangible giveaways. They used “joke-books, cook-books, coloring books, song-books, and dream-books … handbill ballads … pill-filled paperweights … decorated porcelain … a china platter.”5 The Royal Baking Powder Company also relied on “canvassing from house to house; personal solicitation in every way.” Royal salesmen would “paint signs on brick walls, deliver samples to houses, … bill posters, decorate grocery stores, and every way that suggested itself; [they] delivered samples; [they] would put the baking powder up in small packages and deliver it from house to house for a sample to be tried.”6 They also used gutter snipes—that is, posters affixed to curbs—so that pedestrians would see them as they waited at street corners or crossed the street.

In spite of these blitz attack sales efforts, by 1876 Royal’s profits dropped and the company faced a crisis. There was a powerful new weapon in the baking powder war: a chemical called alum. Cream of tartar cost thirty cents per pound; alum cost three cents.7 New companies using the new formula proliferated and challenged Royal’s lead in the market: “Of late the cream of tartar baking powder companies have been surprised by the introduction of a number of other baking powders, sold by small but rising baking powder companies at cheaper rates.”8 By 1878 there were at least forty-two baking powder companies in the New York City area alone.9

Royal went on the offensive and began an advertising war in the press.10 The pioneering advertising campaign played on the public’s fears about chemicals in general and adulterated food in particular, which had been present for almost a century. Although the argol in Royal’s cream of tartar was a chemical sold in a pharmacy and Royal had started in a pharmacy, Royal took great pains to distance (p.53) itself from chemicals in its advertising. It presented Royal as “from the grape” and pure. Therefore, Royal was free to point its finger and sound the chemical warning bell about its competitors’ products with impunity. The press was already filled with horror stories about pharmaceutical accidents and wrongdoings that resulted in death. Beginning with Rhode Island in 1870, states passed laws to regulate drugs and pharmacists. Lawmakers were especially concerned with the adulteration of drugs, and with poisons, including poisons in food.11

In this atmosphere of fear about chemicals, Royal planted anti-alum articles in the press. A headline in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle proclaimed, “The Baking Powder War: Is the Bread That We Eat Poisoned by Alum or Is It Not?—When Doctors Disagree, Who Shall Decide?”12 The article contained interviews with scientists who said that “alum” was a “cheap substitute” for cream of tartar and was injurious. The article was reprinted word for word in other newspapers.13

Both William Ziegler and Joseph Hoagland took credit for initiating the baking powder war. Ziegler said that Hoagland had objected to it because he felt that it would reflect badly on all baking powders and damage the market. Hoagland denied this and provided more details about the campaign to back up his claim, including that Royal had conducted alum experiments on dogs. They got ten dogs from the pound and fed them for three weeks on baking powder biscuits made with alum. At the end of that time, the dogs were sick and the scientists Royal hired published their findings that alum baking powder was the cause.14

In addition to newspaper advertising, in 1877 Royal published The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook. The cookbook was a declaration of war against all other baking powders. It was also a new kind of uniquely American cookbook: the corporate cookbook. William Ziegler was an advertising genius who created a masterpiece of marketing in the form of a cooking pamphlet. The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook used a multitude of techniques to promote Royal’s products and discredit the competition in 40 pages and 377 recipes. Through aspirational appeal, testimonials, and financial comparisons, it allayed consumer qualms about chemical leaveners and “proved” that Royal was the best baking powder.15

In 1876 the National Cookery Book stated what every woman knew was the truth about baking: “experience must of course prevail over teaching.”16 The following year, The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook trumpeted the opposite: with baking powder, no experience was necessary. Baking powder conferred instant expertise on everyone equally. This American invention was a truly democratic product.

The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook was a longer, more sophisticated version of eighteenth-century agricultural almanacs and patent medicine cookbooklets. The recipes in those publications had nothing to do with the almanac or the medicine; including them was an advertising ploy to get the attention of housewives and to prevent the almanac from being thrown away. Almanacs began printing recipes as early as 1795; patent medicines by the middle of the nineteenth century.17 By (p.54) the last quarter of the nineteenth century, manufacturers of food and food equipment used the recipes in cookbooklets to advertise and educate customers about their products: “The patent medicine almanac was a sort of informal textbook for educating the American people.” From ten to thirteen million copies of almanacs alone were printed in the Gilded Age.18

The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook also cross-promoted Royal’s other business: selling extracts of herbs, spices, fruit, and flowers. The herbs were powdered; the spice extracts were liquid and came in lemon, peach, ginger, celery, vanilla, orange, nutmeg, almond, rose, nectarine, cinnamon, and clove. From the large quantities necessary in each recipe, they were probably not cost-efficient. Storage would have been a problem, too, before screw-top bottles. Bottles with stoppers would have allowed evaporation and dissipated the strength of the extract.

The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook was directed at educated middle-class women in several ways. First, it weeded out the riffraff up front by costing ten cents instead of being free. Then it addressed the chronic servant problem by promising that Royal baking powder would provide a solution to the problem of “servants [who] are not particular” when they measure cream of tartar and baking soda.19 It also included one page of advertising for the latest cooking equipment. These are the only images in the book; even the cover is plain blue paper and contains only text. The cookbook itself is text-dense. The cake pans, muffin rings, and molds are for professional-style cooking in the home. They are expensive; the timbale mold costs two dollars. An ice cream freezer costs five dollars, and a “family scale” is four dollars.20 The scale would not be needed for any of the recipes in this booklet, however, because they are standardized in cups and spoons; no longer were recipes by weight. Americans were mobile; a scale was cumbersome to transport on a wagon. But everybody had a cup and a spoon.

The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook was patterned after the most popular cookbook in England at the time, and “the most famous English domestic manual ever published,” Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. First published in 1859, almost two million copies had been sold by 1868.21 All of the recipes in Isabella Beeton’s cookbook were numbered; so are the recipes in The Royal Baker. Mrs. Beeton’s listed exact measurements at the beginning of each recipe, followed by explicit instructions; so does The Royal Baker. The British format was just part of The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook’s continental allure. Many of the foods have foreign influences and names: “Vienna Rolls,” “French Rolls,” “London Crumpets,” and “Croûtes en Diable (Deviled Toast),” among others.

At the same time that it appealed to traditional European tastes, The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook also fed Americans’ desire for novelty. The cover promised: “The recipes in this book are new.” They were new in the sense that they all use Royal baking powder. Even “Election Cake,” traditionally made with yeast, had been reworked for baking powder. So had recipes for pie crusts. There is only one cake (p.55)

The Advertising War Begins“Is the Bread That We Eat Poisoned?” 1876–1888

Sophisticated and expensive baking equipment for the upscale home cook.

The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook, compiled by G. Rudmani, 1877. Author’s collection.

recipe in the book that does not use baking powder, the traditional “Wedding (or Bride) Cake.” A dense, dark fruitcake made with, nuts, spices, and alcohol, this is a holdover from Renaissance Italy’s panforte—literally, “strong bread.” There are also recipes for what are now classic American foods: “Pumpkin Griddle Cakes,” “Huckleberry (Blueberry) Griddle Cakes,” “Sweet Potato Buns (Biscuits),” “Graham Crackers,” “Ginger Snaps,” “Lemon Meringue Pie,” and “Strawberry Shortcake.” A recipe for a cream cake with custard between the layers and a chocolate glaze on top gained fame when it became known as Boston cream pie.

(p.56) All of the recipes might not have been new, but the cookbook itself was something completely new: a cookbook that was 100 percent advertising. In addition to the word “Royal” in almost every recipe, there are seven to eight lines of straight advertising text at the bottom of every page: “Do not use the goods of other manufacturers in these recipes”; “It is poor economy, in trying to save a few pennies on baking powder, to sacrifice your health”; “Yeast used for leavening purposes destroys the nutritive elements of flour”; and so forth. Royal also rang the dyspepsia bell repeatedly: “Indigestion, Sour Stomach, and Dyspepsia are often brought on by the use of Alum powder.”22

Another novelty the cookbook advertised was that Royal was sold in “securely labeled tin cans.” This was a scientific improvement over the old way of selling baking powder in bulk bins, or loose and wrapped in paper, where it “loses its strength.”23 The branding also aided advertising, because it differentiated Royal from all of the other baking powders on the market and from the generic baking powder in bins.

The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook spoke directly to the concerns of women who were skeptical of baking powder: “Many housekeepers are of the impression that baking powder is a chemical compound, dangerous to use; this is true of the cheap kinds which are mixed with the same ingredients used to adulterate Cream of Tartar.”24 This late nineteenth-century advertising says implicitly about Royal baking powder what became explicit in late twentieth-century advertising: “It costs more, but I’m worth it.”25

The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook also provided testimonials. The inside front cover has three: from the state assayer of Massachusetts; from a professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania; and from Henry A. Mott, a New York chemist with a PhD, and Royal’s chemist. They all stated that they had analyzed Royal baking powder and found it “pure and wholesome.” A fourth authority, Professor Charles F. Chandler, president of the newly created New York City Board of Health, is also quoted throughout the booklet, including at the bottom of the page. His most important statement appears at the front of the booklet, under the all-uppercase heading: “DO NOT USE CREAM OF TARTAR AND SODA.” Royal did this to discredit its own ingredients in every other form. It says that Professor Chandler “found nearly all the Cream of Tartar sold by Grocers was adulterated from 80 to 90 per cent. with white clay (Terra Alba), Alum, and other hurtful substances.”26

The cookbooklet also discredited all other leaveners, including yeast. At the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, the Fleischmann brothers had introduced a new style of Viennese yeast. This revolutionary yeast was not the liquid, sloppy slurry that women had made at home for centuries and had to take such pains to store, the one that easily went rancid. In the Fleischmann yeast, the liquid was removed and the yeast was compressed into small cakes. For the first time, bakers, both residential and commercial, had consistent, reliable, easily (p.57) portable and storable baking yeast that was not made from bitter hops. This was a real threat to baking powder. The 1878 Royal cooking pamphlet used Horsford’s 1861 Theory and Art of Bread-Making almost verbatim to discredit yeast and the evils of fermented bread. The first two recipes are for “Royal Unfermented Bread” and “Graham Unfermented Bread.” The pamphlet also attacked Rumford indirectly, by disparaging baking powders made from “burntbones.”

The Advertising War Begins“Is the Bread That We Eat Poisoned?” 1876–1888

The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook discredited all other baking powders (see paragraph at bottom).

The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook, compiled by G. Rudmani, 1877. Author’s collection.

(p.58) The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook severed multiple cultural connections that earlier cookbooks had reinforced and repeatedly undermined female authority. First, it completely removed the female voice. Women in the new republic, Jacksonian, and antebellum America wrote cookbooks in their own recognizable voices, based on their experiences in their home kitchens. But the products of the Industrial Revolution—new chemical products, such as baking powder and flavoring extracts, and new factory-made kitchen equipment and tools—needed new authoritative voices. The Royal Baker removed the female voice and replaced it with the impersonal scientific and professional male authority of the mysterious and misspelled G. [Giuseppi] Rudmani, “Professor of New York Cooking School.” The prestigious-sounding school had been founded the year before to teach immigrants living in tenements how to cook. The corporate voice does not advise, cajole, or commiserate. It imparts information that the consumer longs to hear and that makes the consumer want to buy the product. It relieves the consumer of responsibility.

Earlier, female-written cookbooks had provided not only recipes but also advice, information on household management, as well as the care and feeding of invalids, and moral instruction through food. All of the information was based on each author’s own life experiences. Corporate cookbooks, on the other hand, contained no sections on inexpensive food or food for invalids. This separated the mother from her healing function and undermined her medical authority.27

Philosophical prescriptions and proscriptions were also gone. The Royal Baker broke the tradition of abstemiousness in Western culture that went back to Aristotle. In corporate cookbooks there is no mind-body split; there is only the body and its gratification, as quickly as possible. The olfactory senses of smell and taste, disdained by classical philosophers as belonging to the lower elements, are elevated and privileged in cookbooks.

The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook and other corporate cookbooks also severed religious connections to food. Food became secular. These cookbooks removed the temptation inherent in food since Eve’s unilateral foray into pomology. The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook contained no caveats about overeating, no words of warning about the temptations of desserts or the virtues of self-control. Instead, it was possible to bake your cake and eat it, too—as often as you wanted and in as many different ways as you pleased. With culinary hedonism, could sexual hedonism be far behind? In a corporate cookbook, the only sin is using a product made by another company.

In addition to advertising in local newspapers and printing proprietary cookbooks, Royal placed an article in Scientific American magazine on November 16, 1878. The author of the article, Dr. Henry A. Mott, sang the Royal theme song: other baking powders were adulterated with alum; alum was dangerous; alum in bread was against the law in England; other cream of tartar baking powders were made with an inferior grade of cream of tartar; other baking powder manufacturers were only interested in “dollars and cents.” Only Royal was made from the (p.59) “pure grape.”28 Letters from Royal’s competitors flooded the magazine. People in the trade knew that Mott had been Royal’s chemist and wrote sardonically that they hoped he had been “liberally requited.”29

However, Mott and Royal had a powerful ally in Ellen Swallow Richards, a professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Richards had become interested in baking powder and wrote about it in 1882 in her book The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning. Richards came down firmly on the side of cream of tartar and against alum and soda as “possibly the most injurious” combination.30 Richards passed this message on to the generations of women chemists she trained or influenced, either at MIT, through her writing, or as the first president of the Home Economics Association, founded in 1899 in Lake Placid, New York.

Trade Cards: “The Art Education of a Nation”

Unlike the black-and-white Royal Baker and Pastry Cook, trade cards were based on color images. Beginning in the 1860s, inexpensive color lithography made these 2 × 4 inch or 3 × 5 inch cards popular across the country.31 They were visible signs of consumption even after the product had been consumed. “At the height of its popularity in the 1880s, the trade card was truly the most ubiquitous form of advertising in America,” according to trade card historian Robert Jay.32

Lithographs depicted many of the same things that people post on the internet now: sentimental and humorous scenes of children and animals, flowers, landscapes, sunsets, and moonrises. Even though lithographers like Currier and Ives advertised that they were “Publishers of Cheap and Popular Pictures,” their pictures still cost money.33 Trade cards, however, were free. Children, especially girls, collected trade cards and put them into scrapbooks. Through play, this taught girls brand awareness and how to become consumers.34

Jay divides trade cards into five general themes: “patriotic imagery, the contrast between city and country, racial stereotypes, womanhood and the home, and … children.”35 Baking powder trade cards, too, displayed these themes. However, Jay fails to mention that often the women and children were sexualized. Naked cherubs cavorted across Rumford cards; women languished for baking powder.

Two foods mentioned frequently on baking powder trade cards are cakes and biscuits. Czar baking powder guaranteed it would make “Healthy and Delicious Cakes [and] Biscuits.” Aunt Sally’s baking powder made “splendid biscuits and cakes.” Cleveland’s made “the finest cake and biscuit.” Redhead’s mentions bread, biscuits, and cake. Words repeated on baking powder trade cards were “pure,” “superior,” “healthful,” “nutritious,” and “wholesome.” The alum baking powders added “cheapest” and “uniform”—two important attributes of industrial food.

In addition to selling baking powder, trade cards cross-promoted products that were distributed by the company that made the baking powder or were sold (p.60) in the same store. These were usually spices, extracts, and flavorings. Aunt Sally’s promoted bluing, a laundry detergent.

The obverse of baking powder trade cards appealed to consumers in two ways: emotion and economics. The appeal to emotion was through “Reason Why” advertising. This was a new type of advertising created by C. W. Post of Post cereal. Previously, advertising simply described the product or announced that a product was available; “Reason Why” ads provided irrefutable reasons why the customer could not do without it and needed to buy it. However, the reasons were often emotional needs or vague statements. For example, the obverse of the Redhead’s baking powder card said, “Reasons Why Redhead’s Baking Powder Is Superior To All Others,” and then listed them: it was uniform, never failed, “Keeps the household happy,” and other vague statements.

The Advertising War Begins“Is the Bread That We Eat Poisoned?” 1876–1888

Redhead Baking Powder’s “Reasons Why” was a new advertising concept.

Nahum (Nach) Waxman Collection of Food and Culinary Trade Cards, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

(p.61) Testimonials were a type of “Reason Why” advertising, with the extra benefit that the person providing the reasons was an expert. For baking powder, the expert was usually a chemist or physician, the more eminent the better. Czar baking powder in New Haven, Connecticut, featured a testimonial from S. W. Johnson, professor of chemistry at Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School. Sterling baking powder garnered a statement from the chemist for the U.S. Army. Dr. Price’s card claimed that it “received the highest testimonials from the most eminent chemists in the United States,” but did not name any. Patapsco did name its “eminent chemists and physicians” from Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Yale, and New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. Redhead’s baking powder card mentioned its “Prize Medal Awarded by the American Institute,” with no information on what or where “the American Institute” was. Oddly, trade cards gave consumers many reasons why they should use baking powder but not what they should do with it. Baking powder trade cards rarely had recipes printed on them.

In addition to testimonials proving purity, economic incentives like gifts and refunds enticed customers. Babbitt baking powder gave away coupons with the purchase of each can. For four coupons from a one-pound can (thirty cents), eight coupons from a half-pound can (fifteen cents), or ten coupons from a quarter-pound can (ten cents), the purchaser would receive a free 14×28 inch panel picture from a selection of sixty designs. First-time purchasers of a pound of DeLand’s baking powder could receive a reprint of an illustrated children’s holiday book about two little girls named Wonder Eyes and What For. Some baking powders, like Union, promised simply a generic “present.” An 1884 Cleveland’s baking powder card promised a free cookbook to anyone who sent her address to Cleveland’s offices at 81-83 Fulton Street in New York City.

Sometimes the consumer did not have to buy the baking powder to get a gift. Instead, she had to attend a demonstration of the product. Horsford’s baking powder promised women in Kansas City, Missouri, a tasting of “biscuits, muffins, and gems” if they came to a baking exhibition. For one year, beginning on April 1, 1887, Rumford budgeted a hefty twelve thousand dollars for exhibitions and other advertising in Chicago.36

The promise of a refund provided a security net to the hesitant consumer. J. Monroe Taylor’s baking powder offered a full refund if it did “not give entire satisfaction.” Other refund offers were hyperbolic. In New York, Union baking powder offered a one-thousand-dollar reward “if proven impure, or adulterated, or short weight.” Baltimore-based Sterling offered a thousand dollars to any chemist who could find “Alum, Bone Dust, or impurities of any kind” in its baking powder. Bone dust, of course, referred to phosphate baking powders like Rumford.

The new lithographic art also reflected the deeply ingrained racism in American society, which was found in other types of cards as well. In contrast to the Edenic images on its Caucasian “home sweet home” cards, Currier and Ives also printed (p.62) the racist Darktown series. These cards depicted, supposedly humorously, the parallel universe inhabited by African Americans, Native Americans, and Asians. Inept black people dressed in rags failed at simple tasks and did stupid things that made them topsy-turvy. Often they were bested by white children, or by animals like pigs and dogs. What the Currier and Ives lithographs revealed was the soul-corroding ridicule to which African Americans were casually subjected on a daily basis.37

These stereotypical racist attitudes also permeated business trade cards. One baking powder trade card shows a young white girl in a kitchen supervising an African American man mixing dough in a bowl. He wears a white apron and white hat, but it is not a tall chef’s hat. It is flat on top, like the hat an organ-grinder’s monkey wears. The man’s right leg is chained to the floor; he is her slave. The message of the card is clear: using this brand of baking powder is as good as having a slave. Another card shows a young black man carrying a giant box of Monroe’s baking powder on his shoulders. He has an expression of terror on his face because he is staring at a white cat. This is supposed to be a humorous play on white people’s superstitious fear of black cats. Aunt Sally’s baking powder has the familiar black mammy figure holding a pan of biscuits. She says, “Dar’s no use talking. Missus Vickery’s Aunt Sally baking powder am de best for biscuits and cake.”38

Trade cards declined at the end of the nineteenth century because advertisers found more efficient ways to reach a mass audience. (The notable exception was baseball cards.) The U.S. Post Office was responsible in large part for the democratization of advertising, along with the railroad. In the eighteenth century, mail was delivered to the town tavern; at the beginning of the nineteenth, to the general store. By the end of the nineteenth century, mail was delivered directly to private homes. With the advent of bulk mail, the post office shipped magazines for a flat rate. This meant there was no limit to the number of advertising pages. Magazines could and did contain hundreds of pages of advertising, which created profits for publishers. Catalogues, too, could be mailed directly to consumers. Sears and Montgomery Ward shipped catalogues and goods from Chicago throughout the country.

In spite of The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook, the trade cards, and the newspaper and other advertising, the baking powder companies that Royal attacked continued to do well and to proliferate. By 1884 Rumford was paying dividends of seven to eight dollars per share per month.39 The company had expanded in multiple directions: physical plant, distribution, and product line. Factory and administrative functions were specialized and split into different buildings. The chemical factories were in multiple buildings along the river in East Providence. The research lab was relocated to a separate building in the city of Providence, along with the main offices and shipping and printing facilities.

In 1884 Rumford expanded the use of the phosphates in its baking powder to a new product: “the manufacture and sale of a beverage.”40 Soft drinks were a popular (p.63)

The Advertising War Begins“Is the Bread That We Eat Poisoned?” 1876–1888

This racist trade card equates baking powder with having a slave in the kitchen.

Nahum (Nach) Waxman Collection of Food and Culinary Trade Cards, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

new food, helped by inexpensive sugar and a growing temperance movement. There were no controlled substances, so if a liquid in a bottle had a high alcohol content, was it a medicine or an alcoholic beverage? It depended on when it was manufactured and who made the decision. In 1883 the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service ruled that a beverage that contained alcohol was medicine. In 1905, with the public increasingly vociferous about the evils of alcohol, the new commissioner decided that beverages that contained alcohol were liquor.41

Soft drinks, too, could claim anything, and did. Even if beverages did not contain alcohol, they could contain drugs and make medicinal claims, because the line between “legitimate and illegitimate forms of consumption” was not clearly defined.42 Hires Root Beer had been purifying blood since 1876. Beginning in 1885 in Texas, Dr Pepper aided digestion; in Lowell, Massachusetts, Moxie Nerve Food promised to cure nervousness and paralysis. In 1885 Atlanta physician-pharmacist John Stith Pemberton sought to break his morphine addiction by concocting a beverage steeped in stimulants. He called it Pemberton’s French Wine (p.64) Coca. The following year, he changed the formula and renamed it after two of the stimulants it contained: Coca-Cola.43

Horsford’s advertising sought to distance his beverage from the other soft drinks. Its temperance status was in its name: Horsford’s Acid Phosphate (Non-Alcoholic). It also contained no drugs. Horsford attempted to legitimize his product by connecting it to his stature as a scientist. Horsford’s Acid Phosphate was “not a compounded patent medicine, but a scientific preparation recommended and prescribed by physicians of all schools.” Nevertheless, its claims were the same as those of other soft drinks. Just a teaspoonful added to a “tumbler of water” and sweetened to taste made “a delicious drink” that was good for a wide range of ailments: indigestion and dyspepsia, nervousness, headache, “tired brain,” and weakened energy. It also claimed to be effective against both exhaustion and sleeplessness.44

The Advertising War Begins“Is the Bread That We Eat Poisoned?” 1876–1888

Babies were popular nineteenth-century advertising icons.

Author’s collection.

(p.65) In the 1880s Rumford extended its prosperity to its employees. The company built roads and housing, planted trees, and established committees to look into creating a library for employees and a cemetery. The firm paid hospital bills for an employee with almost thirty years of service.45 On March 19, 1886, the board of directors voted unanimously to give annual bonuses that rewarded longevity:

To those whose wages amount to $1200 per year or less the annuity shall be:

  • 10 per cent of the wages earned where the continuous service has been 10 years, and less than 15 years.

  • 15 per cent where the service has been 15 yrs and less than 20

  • 20 per cent where the service has been 20 yrs and less than 25

  • 25 per cent where the service has been 25 yrs and less than 30

  • To those whose wages amount to more than $1200. per yr, the annuity shall be one half of the above per centages for corresponding term of service.

Rumford’s largesse also extended to women who left their jobs to get married but who had worked less than ten years. In keeping with common practice at the time, only single women worked. When a woman got married, her place was in the home caring for her husband and children. The money for the wedding presents to these women did not come from Rumford; it came personally from Eben Horsford, the father of five daughters.46

Horsford also strongly supported female education and was closely involved with Wellesley College, founded in 1870, which his daughters attended. He endowed the college’s library, donated funds for scientific equipment and for sabbaticals, which he stipulated were for female faculty only and which had to be taken abroad.47 For his contributions to the college, Horsford was made an honorary member of the Wellesley class of 1886.48

The Baking Powder War and Native Americans

Baking powder companies also fought for lucrative government contracts with the military and on Native American reservations. Dr. Henry Mott, a chemist who had analyzed baking powders for the United States Indian Commission, sued Jabez Burns, publisher of The Spice Mill, a grocery trade publication. At issue were remarks that Burns had printed about why Mott chose more expensive cream of tartar baking powder over alum baking powders for use on Native American reservations. The court found Burns guilty and fined him eight thousand dollars. Mott said that Americans should avoid buying baking powder sold loose or in bulk, because it was likely to be adulterated, and that “the label and trade-mark of a well-known and responsible manufacturer … is the best protection the public can have.” This was front page, above-the-fold news in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, under the uppercase heading “CONDEMNED. Alum Baking Powders in Court” and was (p.66) reprinted in newspapers and periodicals across the country.49 Mott later provided commercial endorsements for Dr. Price’s cream of tartar baking powder.50

The number of Native Americans on reservations increased after the annihilation of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry at the Little Big Horn in Montana in June 1876 made subduing Native Americans a priority. Food was part of the forced assimilation to which the American government and Christian missionaries subjected Native Americans, along with individual ownership of land, Christianity, and Western clothing. To Caucasians, baking powder use on Native American reservations was a sign of assimilation and civilization. By the 1880s, Native Americans on reservations in Idaho received a weekly ration of baking powder, along with flour and beef.51 In Dakota Territory, Christian missionaries, appalled that the Arickaree, Mandan, and Gros Ventres tribes persisted in native practices like polygamy and scaffold burials (burying the dead in trees), regarded the use of baking powder as a positive sign: “They are eagerly obtaining from the Government such comforts of civilization as they can—reapers, cooking-stoves, baking-powder.”52

What the Native Americans made with the baking powder was fry bread, a simple fritter made with nonperishable ingredients and deep fried. Fry bread became a dietary staple, as weighted with symbolism for Native Americans as bread is in European and American culture. But what it symbolized had nothing to do with religion. According to food historian Alice Ross, fry bread is “the most important of the foods of the pan-Indian movement and the symbol of intertribal unity.” This is ironic because none of the ingredients in fry bread except salt are indigenous to any Native American culture. Neither is the technique. The intertribal unity is one of subjection.

Native American Fry Bread

  • 3 cups flour, either all white or half whole wheat

  • 1⅓ cups warm water

  • 1¼ teaspoons baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • Lard or oil

Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Add warm water and knead until dough is soft but not sticky. Stretch and pat dough until thin. Tear off one piece at a time, poke a hole through the middle and drop into kettle of sizzling hot lard or cooking oil. Brown on both sides. Serve hot.53

The color, consistency, and taste of wheat fry bread were very different from what Native Americans made with corn. Wheat is white or light brown. Americans standardized corn as yellow or white, with cobs of relatively uniform size so that the kernels could be removed by machine and canned. But Native American corn (p.67) comes in vibrant rainbow colors: purple, scarlet, orange, yellow, mottled, blue, brown. It is with deep purple-blue corn that the Hopi make piki bread, as thin as tissue paper. Unlike fry bread, piki bread takes a great deal of skill to make. The baking stone on which it is made, like the knowledge of how to make piki bread, is passed from mother to daughter. The griddle is seasoned with oil made from sunflower or squash seeds. Then the batter is spread on the hot stone with the hand and cooks almost instantly. The translucent sheets are rolled up and used to soak up sauces or stews.54

Food historians agree that fry bread was a nineteenth-century innovation in Native American cooking but disagree about its origins. The Spanish and French had introduced Native Americans to wheat bread and to its use in the Christian sacrament. Some food historians see in fry bread the French influence of sweet yeast-risen bread. Others see a Spanish hand in the deep-frying technique that is also used in wheat sweets like churros and sopapillas.55 However, the ingredients, especially baking powder, tell the truth: fry bread is a product of Native American incarceration and subjugation. Modern Native American activists like Susan Harjo want a ban on fry bread because it is not indigenous and because they believe it contributes to diabetes, which is prevalent among Native Americans.56

The shift from corn to wheat in Native American cooking was not benign. It was not a simple substitution of ingredients but had far-reaching religious and cultural implications. Corn was sacred in Native American cultures: deities, rituals, and festivals were connected to it. Separation of Native American women from corn disrupted their connections to religion and their identification with powerful female deities. It also changed women’s connections to one another, because grinding corn was an hours-long communal activity. Fry bread is fast food.

Baking Powder and Scandinavian Immigrants

Baking powder use was an indication of assimilation not only among Native Americans but in immigrant populations as well. The dual-language Swedish-American Cookbook, first published in 1882, was an agent for assimilation through food. It also reveals how much Scandinavians in America had already assimilated and how deeply and quickly cream of tartar baking powder propaganda had spread even into immigrant cultures. The book is set in two side-by-side columns, with a recipe in Swedish on the left and the translation in English on the right. Many English words have already migrated to the Swedish side of the book, especially the words for measurements: “ounce,” “cup,” “gill,” “pint,” “quart,” “gallon,” and “handful.” Words for many ingredients, too, are in English: “Hamburger-Steak,” “Roast Biff [sic],” “Indian meal,” “graham,” “molasses,” “lard,” “soda,” “cream of tartar,” and “baking powder.” Most of the breads are leavened with yeast, but there are also American-style recipes that use baking powder, among them baking (p.68) powder biscuits, buckwheat cakes, and waffles. Even Vienna rolls have become Americanized and leavened with baking powder.

It is clear from the proportions of flour to baking powder that these recipes are for cream of tartar baking powder. For the anonymous author of the Swedish-American Cookbook, baking powder comes with a caveat: “Soda, saleratus, cream of tartar, and baking powder, as found in the American market, are often adulterated through mixture with terra alba or white sand. To test them, put a teaspoonful in a glass of water; if pure, it will dissolve, otherwise there will be a gathering at the bottom of the glass. Some baking powders contain alum and should not be used, being very hazardous to your health.”57

Nevertheless, in the 1880s sodium aluminum sulfate gained ground in American markets because it was cheaper and stronger than cream of tartar. Sodium aluminum sulfate cost three cents per pound; cream of tartar cost thirty. Also, less sodium aluminum sulfate was necessary to leaven the same amount of flour.58 This was a serious threat to Royal. They increased their advertising budget in the early 1880s when Henry La Fetra joined the company to manage the advertising department under Ziegler’s supervision. By 1888 Royal had between eight thousand and nine thousand contracts with five to six thousand newspapers in the United States, England, Scotland, Canada, South America, Mexico, Africa, Australia, and the West Indies.59

As baking powder use increased, women had to learn to bake in new ways as they made the transition from yeast-risen breads to baking powder breads and cakes. Baking powder companies taught women through corporate cookbooks, but women continued to educate themselves and each other about the new leaveners through cookbooks that they wrote. Exactly how this transition occurred is evident in the White House Cook Book, published in 1887. The author, Mrs. F. S. Gillette, presents two recipes for the same breadstuff but with different leaveners: fermented with yeast, and unfermented with baking powder. The baking powder recipes are not in a separate section of the book; they immediately follow the yeast recipe for the same bread, so readers can compare. Gillette presents recipes for standards like graham bread, Boston brown bread, Parker House rolls, Sally Lunn, rusks, waffles, and griddle cakes, among others, in this way. For some of the recipes, like the one for Boston brown bread, Gillette points out the difference between the uses of baking soda and baking powder. If the recipe includes an acidic ingredient like sour milk, baking soda will react with it and cause it to rise. With nonacidic sweet milk, baking powder is called for.60

Recipes in the White House Cook Book show that by 1887 there had been a huge leap in the use of non-yeast leaveners. They outnumbered yeast by three to one. The cream of tartar and baking soda combination remained stagnant at 13 percent, the same percentage as in the National Cookery Book in 1876. Saleratus, which had been in almost 10 percent of recipes in 1876, was now completely gone. The (p.69)

The Advertising War Begins“Is the Bread That We Eat Poisoned?” 1876–1888

Mrs. Gillette’s White House Cookbook helped to educate women in the transition from yeast (fermented) to baking powder (unfermented) baked goods. Library of Congress.

astounding increase was in commercial baking powder, which accounted for 40 percent of all leaveners and was used in 43 percent of cakes. Yeast had almost disappeared from cakes, except in the vestigial “Election Cake” (see appendix table A-5).61

In the little more than thirty years since Horsford had received his first patent in 1856, baking powder had grown into a multimillion-dollar business with hundreds of companies. Royal had grown phenomenally from its start in a small Midwestern pharmacy in 1866 to a New York City company selling throughout the United States and in multiple foreign markets. However, by the end of the 1880s, the cream of tartar companies, outnumbered by new alum baking powder companies, found their share of the total market shrinking. In the next phase of the baking powder wars, the cream of tartar companies would turn on each other.


(1.) James D. Norris, Advertising and the Transformation of American Society, 1865–1920 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), xvii.

(2.) Harvey A. Levenstein, A Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 32.

(3.) James Harvey Young, The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961), 68.

(4.) Lorine Swainston Goodwin, The Pure Food, Drink, and Drug Crusaders, 1879–1914 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999), 65.

(7.) Ibid., 609.

(8.) “The Baking Powder War,” Daily Eagle, Dec. 21, 1878, 3.

(9.) 1876 or 1877, Ziegler was not sure which year; Ziegler v. Hoagland.

(10.) Ziegler v. Hoagland, May 28, 1888; BPC, 609, 627.

(11.) Joseph M. Gabriel, “Restricting the Sale of ‘Deadly Poisons’: Pharmacists, Drug Regulation, and Narratives of suffering in the Gilded Age,” Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era 9, no. 30 (2010): 313–36.

(12.) “Baking Powder War,” Daily Eagle.

(13.) “Baking Powders in the United States,” New York Tribune, in The Analyst, edited by G. W. Wigner and J. Muter, Royal Society of Chemistry (London: Baillière, Tindall, and Cox, 1881), 91–93; “Condemned: Alum Baking Powders in Court—Interesting Testimony of Scientific Men,” Sacramento Daily Union 13, no. 13, March 8, 1881, California Digital Newspaper Collection, http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SDU18810308.2.22.

(15.) Giuseppi Rudmani, comp., The Royal Baker and Pastry Cook (New York: Royal Baking Powder Company, 1878).

(16.) Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, comp., National Cookery Book (1876; Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 2010), 163.

(17.) Andrew F. Smith, “Advertising and Promotional Cookbooklets in the Nineteenth Century,” paper presented at the Cookbook Conference, New York, Feb. 9, 2012, 1–2.

(20.) Ibid., 1 page after cover.

(21.) “The Real Isabella Beeton: A Biography with Recipes,” The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton, PBS, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/mrsbeeton/beeton.html.

(23.) Ibid., 3 pages after cover.

(25.) “Because You’re Worth It: The Story behind the Legendary Phrase,” About L’Oréal Paris, http://www.lorealparisusa.com/en/About-Loreal-Paris/Because-Youre-Worth-It.aspx. The phrase was written in 1973 by Ilon Specht, a twenty-three-year-old female copywriter at McCann Erickson, for their client L’Oréal.

(p.208) (26.) Rudmani, Royal Baker and Pastry Cook, 2 pages after cover.

(27.) Kathleen Brown, “The Maternal Physician: Teaching American Mothers to Put the Baby in the Bathwater,” in Right Living: An Anglo-American Tradition of Self-Help Medicine and Hygiene, edited by Charles E. Rosenberg (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 92–93.

(28.) Henry A. Mott Jr., PhD, EM, “The Deleterious Use of Alum in Bread and Baking Powders—Alum Being Substituted for Cream of Tartar,” Scientific American, Nov. 16, 1878, 308, http://archive.org/stream/scientific-american-1878-11-16/scientific-american-v39-n20-1878-11-16_djvu.txt.

(29.) Mitchell Okun, Fair Play in the Marketplace: The First Battle for Pure Food and Drugs (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1986), 235.

(30.) Ellen H. Richards, The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning: A Manual for Housekeepers (Boston: Estes & Lauriat, 1882); quoted in Claudia Quigley Murphy, A Collation of Cakes Yesterday and Today, in Which Is Included a True and Accurate Notation of Early English and Colonial America Receipts, Showing the Beginning and Progress of the Gentle Art of Cake Making to the Present Time (New York, 1923), 20.

(31.) Ellen Gruber Garvey, The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer Culture, 1880s to 1910s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 19–20.

(32.) Robert Jay, The Trade Card in Nineteenth-Century America (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987), 3.

(33.) “Currier & Ives—The History of the Firm,” The History of Currier & Ives, http://www.currierandives.com.

(36.) Letter dated March 21, 1887, from N. D. Arnold to Josselyn and Handke, Rumford Chemical Works Archive (hereafter, RCW), series E, box 4.

(38.) These cards are all undated. Unless stated otherwise, all trade cards discussed and depicted in this section are from the Nahum (Nach) Waxman Collection of Food and Culinary Trade Cards, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

(39.) RCW, series A, vol. B, 1883–1906, n.p.

(40.) RCW, series A, vol. B, 1883–1906, Feb. 6, 1884, 16.

(43.) Mark Pendergrast, For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 14–15.

(44.) Lily Haxworth Wallace, The Rumford Complete Cook Book (1908; Providence, RI: Rumford Chemical Works, 2000). The 2000 facsimile edition came with a caveat: “We only recommend the use of baking powder for cooking”(241).

(45.) Library: RCW series A, vol. A, 1859–1883, Feb. 1, 1882, n.p; cemetery: RCW series A, vol. B, 1883–1906, Feb. 15, 1884, 17; hospital: RCW series A, vol. B, Stockholders’ and Directors’ Record Book B, 1883–1906, Dec. 22, 1885, 41.

(46.) RCW series A, vol. B, Stockholders’ and Directors’ Record Book B, 1883–1906, March 19, 1886, 44.

(47.) “In Memoriam, Eben Norton Horsford,” Wellesley College, 1893, 31–32. https://archive.org/details/inmemoriamebenno00well, Nov. 2, 2013.

(48.) Wellesley College Archives, Records of the Class of 1886, 1882–1953: A guide, Wellesley College website, http://academics.wellesley.edu/lts/archives/6c_classes/6C.1886.html.

(p.209) (49.) “CONDEMNED. Alum Baking Powders in Court—Interesting Testimony of Scientific Men,” [Brooklyn] Daily Eagle, Dec. 9, 1880, 1; reprt. in New York Times, Dec. 11, 1880, 10; Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake City, UT, Dec. 24, 1880, 3; Independent Record, Helena, MT, Dec. 31, 1880, 3; Black Hills Weekly Pioneer, Deadwood, SD, Jan. 1, 1881, 1; Gleason’s Monthly Companion, Boston, Jan. 1881, 188; Los Angeles Herald 14, no. 149, Jan. 23, 1881, 3; and others.

(50.) Dr. Price, Table and Kitchen: A Compilation of Approved Cooking Receipts (Chicago: Price Baking Powder Co., 1908).

(51.) “A Day at a Reservation: The Indian as He Is at Ross Fork Agency,” New York Times, Oct. 1, 1889, 5.

(52.) Rev. Addison P. Foster, “The Dakota Indians,” American Missionary 38, no. 6 (1884), 175.

(53.) Phyllis Hughes, ed., Pueblo Indian Cookbook (Santa Fe: University of New Mexico Press, 1982), 11.

(54.) “Piki Bread,” Ark of Taste, Slow Food USA, http://www.slowfoodusa.org/ark-item/piki-bread.

(55.) Alice Ross, “Fry Bread,” in Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, vol. 2. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 169.

(56.) Tantri Wija, “Out of the Frying Pan,” Free New Mexican, Aug. 16, 2006, 2. http://cretscmhd.psych.ucla.edu/healthfair/PDF%20articles%20for%20fact%20sheet%20linking/FryBread_health_AIAN.pdf.

(57.) The Swedish-American Cookbook: A Charming Collection of Traditional Recipes Presented in Both Swedish and English (1882; New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012).

(58.) Ziegler v. Hoagland; BPC, 609.

(60.) Mrs. F. L. Gillette, White House Cook Book (Chicago: R. S. Peale & Co., 1887), 232.

(61.) Ibid., 264.