ADVERTISING FOOD PRODUCTS was a tricky business, especially after advertisers began including recipes in their ads. If the recipes were too advanced, beginning cooks would be intimidated; too simple, and experienced cooks would pass them by.


Any woman who prepared food for a living, such as the cook at Trail End, would pride herself in being thought of as an “experienced cook.” Nevertheless, it was not always easy to come up with tempting new taste treats for the family palate. As the Jell-O company noted in a 1928 ad:

Quick your wit and skillful your hands, but sometimes, in the daily round of meals, it’s maddening to try to think of something new. If only there were some one thing – for you, the Architect of Dinners, know that many a meal is saved from ordinariness by one triumphant course!

Jell-O, along with other companies such as Royal Baking Powder, Pillsbury Flour and others, put out free booklets featuring recipes calling for their products. These little pocket-sized collections conveniently – and inexpensively – kept the product’s name at hand while helping the cook put together new menus.


Cooking from scratch – not using packaged or processed foods – is something every household cook should try from time to time. It’s usually more difficult than just opening a can or popping something into the microwave, but the rewards can be great – and delicious. Sometimes, however, time and ingredients just aren’t available, so we have to rely on easier methods to get food on the table. This was true during Trail End’s time as well.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most packaged and processed foods were fairly simple. The earliest were (a) products that would be too difficult for the average home cook to prepare herself (corn flakes or cocoa powder, for example) or (b) ingredients that were difficult to obtain either out-of-season or away from the source (fruit, vegetables, seafood). Canned foods came first; frozen foods appeared in the 1920s.

As the availability of hired cooks decreased, the number of prepared and packaged foods increased. Soon, manufacturers offered hundreds of products that the average homemaker could make for herself with easily available ingredients, but maybe didn’t have the time or skill to do (jam, cheese, bread, soup, cookies).

One of the most important things a packaged product had to do was to convince the consumer that it tasted as good as what could be made at home. "Just like mother used to make" might be a cliche, but it was one by which food advertisers lived or died. Purity was another concern. After the Pure Food & Drug Act was passed in 1906, both manufacturers and consumers became much more focused on what was inside a package of food - how it was manufactured and under what conditions. In order to calm the fears of consumers, advertisers immediately began to include the word "Purity" in their ads on a regular basis. 


One way to have “summer” foods in winter was to can them – preserve them in glass jars. The road to home canning was neither smooth nor short. It took well over a century to develop the type of canning technology we know today: In 1809, a way was first devised to preserve food in bottles by sterilization; in 1858, Mason invented the first practical glass jar for home canning, using a ceramic-lined zinc lid to seal in freshness; in 1882, Putnam introduced a glass lid with a wire clamp; in 1896, Holcomb & Hoke patented the first pressure cooker for home use; and in 1915, Kern developed the first disposable flat brass canning lid with built-in rubber ring.

Canning was hard work, as the food had to be chopped, cooked and seasoned, packed into sterilized glass jars, boiled (either on top of the stove or in a pressure cooker), cooled properly, and stored with accurate labels. Anything could be canned, from fruits and vegetables to meats and fish. Safety could be a concern with home-canned goods. If poorly done, molds, botulism, and other problems could result – with deadly consequences. Therefore, advertisers were always careful to play up the safety aspects of their products.

For more on home canning, read our articles Can Do Spirit and How Old is Your Ball.

Food Advertising

 State Historic Site

Trail End

 (Working, Georgen, SCHS & Eads collections, TESHS)

Detail, Life Magazine, 1919 (Trail End Collection)

The Ad Made Me Buy It

The Power of Advertising in the Early 20th Century

A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
​April 2012 - December 2012