Ancient Candies Sell New Technologies, 1950s
Today I wanted to share with you a couple of candy industry ads from the 1950s that caught my eye. When I saw them, I wondered, why the sudden appearance of these “ancient” motifs and references?
Here we have Monsanto Chemical Company advertising their Flavor Chemicals in 1952 (yes, its the same Monsanto). This is the fruit and flower of modern science, the efforts of chemists at the cutting edge of food engineering. And what image do they use to promote their oh-so-modern product? Ancient Egyptians and Classic Greeks in togas.
And two years later, Annheuser-Busch brings a full-blown pharaonic fantasy to promote its starches and corn syrups.
This ad describes candy as “one of the oldest manufactured food products.” I think this phrase tips us off as to what these ads are doing.
The food business was undergoing a major technological revolution in the 1950s. All sorts of food engineering and food chemistry, much of it developed for the military during WWII, was hitting the marketplace in the form of new kinds of food, new kinds of packaging, and new ways of cooking and eating.
It was “better living through chemistry,” to be sure. But as much as there was the excitement of progress and the new, there was also anxiety: after all, was chemistry really food?
I think these ads are about creating psychological links between the old and the new to make the new seem more a continuation of the old, more familiar and less of a dramatic break.
The problem is not so acute for Annheuser-Busch’s starches and corn syrups, perhaps. After all, they have some recognizable relation to corn. But Monsanto was peddling additives that were radically new and absolutely artificial: ethavan, vanillin, coumarin and methyl salicylate, flavorings that created the effects of “real” foods like vanilla and mint. The question on some people’s minds must have been: Was Monsanto selling chemicals? Or food ingredients?
Monsanto reassures its customers of its rightful place in the candy kitchen by establishing links to the candy past. “Hebrews, Greeks, Romans… history-making men of nearly every nationality… have listed candy among their foods,” and now Monsanto joins this distinguished line as part of the “modern Candy Industry.”
Note: yes, that’s the same Annheuser-Busch better known for beer. For the full story on how a brewer ends up provisioning the candy trade, see my post Beer and Candy III. For more on Monsanto’s chemicals in the candy industry, see my posts Please Don’t Eat the Wrapper and A Complete, Well-Balanced Diet.
Ads appeared in Confectioners Journal: Monsanto, Feb 1952; Annheuser-Busch, Aug 1954.