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Friday, April 22, 2011

Catsup King, Tomato Justice, or Tomato Rebellion?...You decide.

Sometimes, all it takes is an envelope to get me going (Click for a larger size).
I first fell for the graphics and the color representation of the can. Cartoon-ish and innocent, with the "pyramid" of soup flavors, yes, they even had mulligatawny!  I thought at first that this was a cute little vegetable packing company from the 30's, maybe Popeye got his spinach from this place. 
Nope, nothing small about this place! Railways, shipping and no less that 10,000 employees. I know I don't know everything about everything, but shouldn't this have sounded a little familiar? I had to find out more.
The first stop was the Maryland Online Encyclopedia which tells the story of this company. I can summarize by saying that it was an Oyster packing company bought in 1902 by Levi Phillips and a partner named Winterbottom and then expanded by another member of the Philips family, Albanus Philips. Don't think I'd be telling this story if they'd put Winterbottom's name on the can. They seem to know how to control the farmers, take advantage of the railways for raw vegetables in and product out. Then they gained the lucrative (I suppose) army contract to feed the troops for WWI and WWII and were the largest packagers of the famous "C" rations. Albanus was somewhat of a baron of industry and didn't pay his workers well, or provide benefits, other than all the canned food you could buy at the company store, maybe. There were some famous clashes between striking workers and the police and other state organizations who tried to make peace (not canned peace!) between the 2 sides.

In hunting for more information about this company I came across a biography of Walter Chysler, who became fast friends with Albanus Phillips (Note the company address on the envelope). Aside from hunting and carousing they also enjoyed friendly wagers.

(Pokety was a hunting lodge.estate owner by Mr. Chrysler)
All along I had been wondering why this envelope had been kept among this box of papers that has now stretched over several posts.  When I read the location of the lavish dinner that Chrysler had to hold (because he lost the "Tomato Justice" bet) at the Waldorf-Astoria, something clicked. I remembered seeing among the personal documents, an employee card.
It's a long shot. The ID card is from 1932, and the extravagant dinner at the Waldorf is 1935, and the envelope is from 1937. But seeing the occupation of the card holder it is possible to speculate that some connection likely existed between that famous dinner and the owner of the card and envelope.

The epilogue for the Philips company and its Baron of Catsup ends in the 1960's. In post WWII the Campbell's Soup company won over the consumer and the frozen food era signaled the end of many canned foods manufacturers. 
Note: No Ketchup was spilled during the creation of this post.

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