Like a lot of companies with names for brands (like Chef Boyardee or Carvel), you might have always wondered if there’s a real person behind Smucker’s jellies and jams. There was, more than 100 years ago, and his ingenuity continues to line pantries nationwide.
1. SMUCKER'S WAS FOUNDED BY A MENNONITE FARMER.
Jerome Monroe Smucker was an Ohio farmer and penmanship tutor when inspiration for breakfast spreads struck him. With hard work and an education from a business school, the 39-year-old had successfully run four dairy farms and a creamery, and he took his chances on opening a cider mill in 1897. Despite Mennonites’ aversion to (then) modern mechanics, Smucker created and used machinery that pressed apples and produced cider (as well as vinegar) with outstanding results. Steam-powered presses helped retain the cider’s flavor and gave Smucker’s mill a strong reputation. Eventually, his ciders became more popular than the creamery’s dairy products.
2. SMUCKER'S FIRST PRODUCT WAS APPLE BUTTER.
The problem with an apple cider mill is that it leaves behind a lot of apple mush byproduct. But, Smucker realized he could round out his seasonal business by using the mush to make apple butter. Using a family recipe, he began brewing vats of the fruit spread, which he sealed in half-gallon stone crocks. Each crock was tagged with Smucker’s handwritten name as a seal of quality. Jerome Smucker and his son, Willard, began traveling through Ohio to sell their apple butter concoctions in 1900. The two peddled the Smucker’s spread from the back of a horse-drawn wagon. By 1915, the Smuckers had sold close to $60,000 in apple butter, pushing Jerome to officially create the J.M. Smucker Company six years later.
3. JOHNNY APPLESEED'S WORK HELPED LAUNCH SMUCKER'S.
Americana legend has it that Johnny Appleseed wandered the U.S., planting apple trees wherever he pleased. That's not exactly true (he was more pragmatic about where he sowed his seeds), but luckily for Jerome Smucker, Appleseed did in fact lay claim to some fields in Ohio. Smucker’s original apple ciders and butters allegedly used apples from Ohio orchards planted by Johnny Appleseed.
4. JEROME SMUCKER'S DIRECT DESCENDANTS RUN THE COMPANY.
The J.M. Smucker Company became a national brand in 1942, six years before Jerome Smucker died. After his death, the company continued on as a family-run business. Since then, direct descendants of Smucker have managed the company in a five-generation chain passed from father to son. But just because the business stays within the family doesn’t mean Smucker children have an easy ride. Before a Smucker can become CEO, he’s required to have an advanced degree and work experience outside the company.
5. THE COMPANY NAME COULD HAVE BEEN MUCH DIFFERENT.
Jerome Smucker’s ancestors were immigrants who left Switzerland with the name Schmucker in the 1750s. But unlike many immigrant families who changed their names upon entry, the Schmuckers waited a few decades before Schmucker became Smoker for two generations. Jerome’s father, Gideon, made the final switch from Smoker to Smucker based on his strong anti-smoking, conservative sentiments.
5. THE ICONIC TAGLINE WASN'T CREATED IN-HOUSE.
While Smucker’s has used several slogans to hawk its spreadables, the most popular came from advertising copywriter and author Lois Wyse: “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.” Smucker’s has used the slogan since 1962, and Wyse went on to help other small companies become national brands—like renaming the now-famous Bed, Bath & Beyond.
6. THE 1960s WERE PURE SMUCKER'S INNOVATION.
Smucker’s products became nationally popular through the 1940s and ‘50s, pushing the company to explore a variety of other condiments. In 1963, Smucker’s released its Old Fashioned Sweet Tomato Ketchup, and they continue to manufacture fancy ketchups today. An attempt at Smucker’s pickles launched in '66, but sales weren’t successful, and the company sold off its brined wing in the 1980s. To go along with its jellies, peanut butters hit the market mid-decade, and soon after, the company began offering peanut butter and jelly swirled within one container (called Goober, marketed as “a sandwich in a jar”).
7. SMUCKER'S SPREADS CAN'T LEGALLY BE CALLED JAMS.
In the 1970s, Smucker’s released a line of lightly sweetened fruit spreads for sugar-sensitive breakfast eaters (and likely to combat sugar shortages of the '70s). Because there was so little sugar in the finished product, the Food and Drug Administration banned the company from marketing it as jam (jams contain about 60 percent sugar).
8. THE COMPANY SELLS MORE THAN JELLY.
While the J.M. Smucker Company started off as an apple butter business, it has amassed plenty of other product lines in its nearly 120 years. Jif peanut butter (a natural pairing for jelly), Pillsbury, and Crisco are all in the company’s portfolio. In 2015, Smucker’s acquired several pet food companies and now manufactures Meow Mix and other kibbles. And your cup of Folgers to go with a breakfast of toast and jam? Smucker’s owns that, too.
9. DON'T TRY COPYING THE GINGHAM DESIGN.
Smucker’s iconic lid design featuring a gingham print has been trademarked since 1975, and is the company’s main visual feature that it fiercely protects. Smucker’s has agreements with international fruit preserve companies that allow the use of a gingham lid so long as products aren’t sold in the U.S., and it once sued Nestle over similarly designed baby food jars.
10. PATENTING ITS CRUST-LESS SANDWICH HAS BEEN CONTROVERSIAL.
Smucker’s Uncrustable sandwiches are pretty much what they sound like: frozen, crust-less peanut butter and jelly pockets. Smucker’s tried to patent the concept of a crust-less, enclosed sandwich to no avail, even sending a cease and desist letter to a Michigan business that created a similar turnover. Unfortunately for Smucker’s, courts ruled that patenting a turnover-style sandwich wasn’t going to happen, regardless of how it was made or whether it was crimped around the edges (judges said the process was too similar to ravioli). But, that hasn’t stopped the company from making the sandwiches, which like many Smucker’s toppings and spreads, remain a staple in American cupboards.
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