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Food Labels

The North’s involvement in the Civil War expedited the science of food packing, as a consequence of the need to feed soldiers safely and efficiently. During the last quarter of the century, manufacturers began to pack food into smaller units for sale to the general public. This was preferable to handling food in bulk, because goods prepacked in uniform boxes and cans were easier to transport and store. Packing prevented damage to items in transit; it reduced waste from spillage at stores; and it protected food from unhygienic exposure to air and human contact.

Effective fabrication of common packing materials developed during this time. The use of glass bottles and jars became widespread after 1870, machine-made foldable cardboard boxes were invented in 1879, and the mass production of tin cans was perfected in 1880.

The packing of foodstuffs* led quickly to the development of packaging—that is, the use of graphical advertisements to differentiate a product from its competition. Some packing materials, such as bags and fancy tins, were printed on directly. However, most companies used paper labels, which were applied with paste to wooden and cardboard boxes, bottles, and cans.

The branding of products developed through packaging and related advertising. Firms gave goods special names, such as “Imperial Yeast Powder” rather than descriptive labels such as simply “yeast power.” These brand names and their associated graphics, along with the company’s logo, were repeated over and over on packaging and advertising materials to prompt customers to remember specific products and ask for them again. Companies used large portions of their budgets to package and promote their brands. Sometimes, as was the case with breakfast cereal, manufacturers created a demand for a product solely through their advertising of it.

*Click to view image of H. Bolton Jones and Francis C. Jones, Quaker Oats Packing Room, 1893. Chromolithographed trade card, (5 x 7 ½ in). Printed by Armstrong & Co. Lithographers, Boston. Published by the American Cereal Co., Chicago.

 

 

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