From Farm to Family with the Heinz Collection

Senator John Heinz History Center

Follow the life of a Heinz pickle as told by our collection of artifacts and images. 

The Life of a Heinz Pickle
From his days growing vegetables in his mother’s garden as a young boy to a businessman heading a global food company, H.J. Heinz concerned himself with every detail of his products – from the seeds produced, to the package on the store shelves, to the product consumed at tables around the world. From the beginning, Heinz built a seed-to-table company long before farm-to-table became trendy. Just as the company’s “Life of a Heinz Pickle” game illustrates the details of the Heinz process from farm to family, so too does our rich Heinz collection. 

Heinz had each farmer that worked for the company sign a contract like this that guaranteed that they would deliver their produce to the nearest processing plant on the day that they picked it.

The Farm
Agriculture played a central role in the Heinz business. Without fresh produce, Heinz had no product to sell. Early on, the H. J. Heinz Company began developing seed stock and harvested from both their own fields as well as contracting with independent farmers. In the 1870s, Heinz’s cousin Frederick applied early scientific methods to the process, studying seeds and plant development. By 1900, Heinz employed 20,000 people working 16,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Iowa.

Farmers line up to deliver their cucumbers at the Heinz processing plant.

The Process
For optimum freshness, the H. J. Heinz Company sited salting stations and processing plants near the fields so that the cucumbers could be immediately pickled after harvesting. Innovations such as the “pickle assorter” guaranteed that the Heinz Company had the most uniform pickles in size and count on the market. 

John Heinz, H.J. Heinz’s mechanically-oriented brother, developed a way to regulate the sorting of cucumbers by size. He patented his invention, this “pickle assorter.” With it, Heinz and his salesman guaranteed that they had the most uniform pickles in size and count on the market.

Employees used this pickle dipping net to retrieve cucumbers from the pickling vats for sampling or testing.

To the Factory
The pickles then arrived via refrigerated or patented pickle tank car trains at the largest and most sophisticated food processing plant in the country. Heinz’s North Side facility amazed visitors. It boasted some of the first electric ventilation systems in Pittsburgh and electric lights throughout. Made of brick and designed to be completely fire resistant, the factory had an electric fireproofing system that closed doors and sounded fire alarms. Heinz adopted a continuous flow system and assembly line techniques years before industrialists like Henry Ford did, and employed a revolutionary blend of human labor and automation. Engineers travelled from around the world to see the plant.

Heinz's patented wooden tank cars kept pickles in their brine and prevented bruising on the way to the factory for further processing and packaging.

Since the factory workers had to handle the produce, they received weekly manicures provided by the company.

Each bottle of Heinz pickles had to be packed in a particular way. The women were paid by how many bottles they packed per day.

These beautiful and precisely-packed display jars were used to sell Heinz products at exhibitions, fairs, and store displays.

Heinz frequently used "the girl in the white hat" in advertising to stress his high standards of cleanliness and quality.

To the Shelves
After the pickles had been processed and packaged to Heinz Company specifications, the Heinz salesman and advertising department had to get them on the grocer’s shelves and into consumers’ hands. H.J. Heinz managed every point of access to his product to create a consistent message of quality about the brand that included not only the product itself but also package and label design and advertising and sales techniques. 

Heinz products being loaded from the factory onto train cars for shipment around the globe.

Refrigerated cars kept produce from freezing in the winter and spoiling in the summer on the way to the store shelves.

Salesman used items such as this pickle sizer and profit scale to help the grocer generate the most profit from the Heinz products he purchased. The sizer illustrated the variety of Heinz pickles that could be purchased by the grocer. Because Heinz regulated the size of the pickles in barrels and jars they could tell grocers exactly how many pickles were in each and calculate accurately the profit. Heinz’s competitors packed in bulk and the grocer never knew what they had to sell until opening the container.

Once the salesman established relationships with grocers, they returned often to take orders, introduce new products, provide samples, and help with advertising. They created store and window displays, provided signs and trade cards, ensured the Heinz products were well placed and cared for, and held week-long product demonstrations. Heinz pioneered the strategy of offering food samples to win new consumers.

You could not get the product on the table if the consumer didn't know about it so Heinz made sure his "57 Varities" were well advertised, from street car signs like this to a 43 foot-long electric sign in New York City.

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