Technology in Food Production:
From The Factory, To The Store, To The Kitchen

This section discusses some of the technological developments that affected the movement, packaging, and preparation of food, all of which had their own influence on the rise of national brands and on the rise of consumer culture in general.

On The Rails:
Until 1850, canal boats had carried most of the country's freight, including food; but railroads replaced canals within 25 years of their first appearance in 1826. As the railroad network developed, factories and mills sprouted up along its routes and the railroad then carried factory-made goods across the country. This allowed the sources of production for goods to be far away from the point of sale.

Especially in the case of food. Railroads enlarged the diet of the nation by bringing items from one region to another, opening up the Bread Basket in the West and bringing Georgia peaches to New York City. They also improved the quality of foods available. For instance, once cattle could ride to the market for which they would be slaughtered, the meat they produced was tenderer, tastier and cheaper: "tenderer, because cattle which rode to market instead of walking to it did not develop such tough muscles; tastier, because the same lines that carried cattle north and east also carried grain with which to fatten them south and west; cheaper because they lost less weight between pasture and slaughterhouse." (Root:152)

But soon enough the cattle wouldn't make that ride - not alive anyway. After The Civil War, many cities banished slaughterhouses that existed within their limits, sometimes in residential districts. The unsanitary conditions, the blood and the stench, would no longer be tolerated, much to the dismay of local butchers who were losing their time-honored tradition. Two Chicago meat entrepreneurs, however, worked to handle this problem and in so doing, sealed the national meat market. Gustavus Franklin Swift and Philip Danforth Armour followed a parallel course in convincing a railroad line to move their already processed meat on refrigerated cars that they would build themselves. Now cattle could be slaughtered in the centralized and efficient processing system of Chicago and be shipped as chilly carcasses to eastern and other markets. (Root:209)

In The Factory:
Early canning involved tinsmiths joining together the 3 components of a can: the long strip comprising the body of the can and the top and the bottom. The parts were cut and soldered by hand and two skilled tinsmiths could turn out 120 cans a day. Improvements in this process by the 1840s allowed two unskilled men to turn out 1,500 a day. Just before The Civil War, the output of processing for various foods was 5 million cans a year. That would rise to 30 million by 1870. The war had created not only a demand for canned food from the government in order to feed troops, but after the war the soldiers insisted their wives feed them the canned food they had grown used to eating. (root, 190)

In 1876, a machine was invented through which long lines of cans flowed continuously for automatic sealing and by 1880 the manufacturing of cans was its own industry. The food handler could now concentrate on food and outsource the can production. (root, 190) By the end of the century, the United States was producing about half of the total world production of preserved foods.(Thorne, 18-30)

In The Store:
The development of what are now day-to-day items like paper bags and cardboard boxes changed the way that food was transported, both from the factory to the store and from the store to the kitchen. Until the paper bag, purchaser's carried their own containers to grocers to carry things home. After 1870, when the process to make the paper bag was patented, purchasers could fill up innumerable sacks with impulse purchases. The paper bag did not change the fundamental relationship between the grocer and purchaser, however, it just increased sales. The grocer still bought goods in bulk and sold different amounts according to customer need or desire. It was the development of the cardboard box that would make mass marketing of goods possible. (Manring, 63)

Once the process to mass produce cardboard boxes was developed in 1879, goods could be placed directly in cardboard boxes and shipped as units to the stores to be sold. Cardboard boxes were Crackers For Salesturdy, stackable, and sanitary. The pioneers of mass production discovered another benefit to cardboard: it was sturdy enough to print a brand name and a logo right on it. Soon enough, The National Biscuit Company started to ship out their products in small, individual units for customers. Each little box was like a commercial for the product, for the company, for the company's cleanliness, trustworthiness. "The ability to create a totally packaged object - sealed, branded, and only opened after it had reached the consumers home - closed the circle of bulk retailing... by eliminating the middleman." (Manring: 64)

In The Kitchen:
While advertisements for cookstoves began to appear in the early part of the century, it wasn't until the 1850s that they were in widespread use. By that time, hundreds of founderies were turning out ranges and cookstoves, so much so in fact, that a stove could become outdated in a year or two due to constant improvements in stove technology.(Plante:43)

"The importance of the shift from hearth cooking to use of the range or cookstove cannot be overstated. This development altered American cookery methods and meal planning, while at the same time relieving the housewife or cook of multiple backbreaking chores such as lifting and moving heavy iron cookware. Perhaps most importantly, the introduction of the stove brought technology into the kitchen and as the century progressed, a continuous stream of updated and improved appliances became available...." (Plante: 70)
The stove not only allowed you to cook more things at once, it performed other functions that made life easier. ideal stove, c. 1873On this ideal cooking stove with all possible attachments, you could "keep 17 gallons of water hot in the reservoir, bake pies in the warming closet, warm sadirons underneath the back cover, bake bread in the oven, roast meat in the tin roaster and make tea on a top burner or under the baking cover." (Plante:43) Hot water for washing, irons for ironing, and bread baking, all at the same time. Of course, this involved intensive management of dampers and your heat source, be it wood or coal. Management itself became an art form.

Cooking also became more of an art form and a profusion of gadgets sought to help the cook or housekeeper save time and energy in her tasks. Gadgets and utensils that had previously been handcrafted or hand-forged were now produced in bulk. Many were cast-iron or factory made wooden examples and most had clamps, turn-cranks or action gears. (Plante:70) Mrs. F. L. Gillette's and Hugo Ziemann's 1887 White House Cookbook included a list of items found in a properly equipped kitchen. "An ingenious housewife will manage to do with less conveniences," the book explained, "but these articles, if they can be purchased in the commencement of housekeeping, will save time and labor, making the preparation of food more easy - and it is always economy in the end to get the best material in all wares..." (Plante:101)

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