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Heinz, John - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: John Heinz

company business time factories

(1844-1919)
H. J. Heinz Company

Overview

Henry John Heinz started selling surplus produce from his family’s garden when he was eight years old. Many years later, his company, H. J. Heinz Company, had become the largest pickling and preserving house in America. During his time, Heinz was also known for his model factories, in which there was never a strike. In current times, people recognize the advertising slogan he created in 1856 that reminded buyers that Heinz offered “57 varieties.”

Personal Life

Henry John Heinz was born on October 11, 1844, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. His parents, Henry Heinz and Anna Margaretha (Schmidt) Heinz, were both German immigrants. On his father’s side, Heinz was a direct descendant of John Lorenz Heinz, a successful winemaker from Bavaria, Germany. Through the generations, that estate had been reduced due to repeated subdivisions among heirs. Thus by the time the senior Henry became an adult, he was left to find his own way. He joined the tide of immigrants and moved to America in 1840. Anna Margrethe Schmidt, the daughter of a Burgermiester of a town near Hershfield, Germany, came to America in 1843. Heinz’s father was a brickmaker, and his mother spent much of her time gardening. His parents, who were strict Lutherans, hoped that their son would go into the ministry, but upon observing his business savvy, which became evident when he helped produce an income for the family from the backyard garden, they allowed him to follow his own interests. Heinz always gave credit to his strict and principled upbringing for helping him to succeed in business.

Heinz married an Irish girl, Sarah Sloan Young, in 1869, and they had five children, four sons and a daughter. Heinz started life as a Lutheran, then became Methodist, then went to Presbyterianism. Politically, he voted Republican in the national elections, but locally he declared himself an independent.

An avid worker for civil reform, Heinz was also very involved in religious and community activities. He served as chairman of the executive committee of the World’s Sunday School Association in 1913. He was one of the founders of the Western Pennsylvania exposition society and a member of the Pittsburgh chamber of commerce, as well as several charitable and educational organizations. He supported the YMCA and was president of the board of trustees at Kansas City University. To honor his mother, he gave the University of Pittsburgh a building to be used exclusively for “the religious and social activities of the student body of the university” in 1914. He also had an interest in social reform and was a member of the Japan Society of New York and the Inter-Racial Council. Heinz traveled extensively, both in America and overseas. His foreign experiences included Mexico, Europe, the West Indies, Egypt, and Turkey.

Career Details

Throughout his career, Heinz was innovative and had an intuitive sense for business and marketing. His formal education consisted of a business course at Duff’s Business College, but that was only a starting point. At the age of 15, he became his father’s bookkeeper and assistant. When he came of age, his father made him a partner. At that time, brick making was a seasonal operation. Heinz could see greater possibilities and thus made various improvements, such as installing drying racks and heating flues. These changes allowed the company to produce bricks year round.

He had a brick making company of his own briefly, and always maintained an interest in bricklaying. The enterprise he showed at age eight, however, by selling produce from his mother’s garden, led him to the career that he followed for the rest of his life. He continued to raise and sell produce. Here again, he implemented new ideas in growing, for example, expanding into the use of hotbeds and intense cultivation. By 1860 he had several employees and made three wagon deliveries every week to grocers in Philadelphia. In 1869 he and a friend formed a partnership to bottle and sell horseradish, a business that went bankrupt in 1875.

A year later Heinz tried again, with his brother, John, and his cousin, Frederick, as partners, and this time he was more successful. The company of F & J Heinz was formed in 1876 to produce pickles, condiments, and other prepared foods. The firm was reorganized in 1888 as the H. J. Heinz Company. By 1896 the company made so many different products, Heinz created the advertising slogan “57 varieties,” which became an American colloquialism. In 1905 the company was incorporated with Heinz as president where he served until his death. At that time H. J. Heinz was the largest pickling and preserving business in the world.

In addition to his enormous success as producer of prepared foods, Heinz was considered an advertising and merchandising genius. He set up New York’s first large electric sign in 1900, which consisted of a 40-foot-long green pickle and contained 1200 electric light bulbs. Heinz’s artistic touch in creating and developing attractive labels and bottles was credited for the success of his products, although the fact that he insisted on packaging only the highest quality product also had an influence. Heinz also made a point of exhibiting at national and international food expositions, which helped his products become well known. His exhibits were impressive; at the World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago in 1883, Heinz won a gold medal and several other awards for 18 of his products.

Social and Economic Impact

The main Heinz plant was built in 1889, and by 1919 there were 25 branch factories located all around the United States and in other countries, including Canada, England, and Spain. The company maintained warehouse and distribution centers in all major U.S. cities. H. J. Heinz had its own bottle, box, and can factories and its own seed farms.

Each year the company processes the yield from 100,000 acres; at least 1,000 of those acres were cultivated by the firm itself in Muscatine, Iowa. The service of 100,000 people was needed to cultivate and harvest the crops that the company used, and the company employed around 6500 people directly. At the turn of the century, H. J. Heinz was the largest producer of pickles, vinegar, and ketchup, the largest grower and producer of mustard, and the fourth largest packer of olives.

Heinz was also known for his excellent factories. In Pittsburgh he constructed an elaborate complex of factories that encompassed over seven acres of floor space. It became a tourist attraction, as people would come to watch the white-coated employees pack the products. He won several awards for his factories, including one from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who called it “a utopia for working men.” Heinz also supported the Pure Food Act, which proposed to regulate conditions in food processing factories such as his. The rest of the industry tried to stop the legislation, but Heinz felt it was so important that he even sent his son to Washington to campaign in favor of the act.

Chronology: John Heinz

1844: Born.

1860: Developed business of growing and selling produce.

1869: Formed a partnership to make and sell horseradish.

1876: Started F & J Heinz.

1888: Reorganized company as H. J. Heinz Co.

1889: Won first medal awarded in Europe to an American pickler.

1896: Introduced “57 varieties” advertising slogan.

1905: Incorporated H. J. Heinz Co. with Henry John Heinz as president.

1919: Died.

H. J. Heinz Company remained a family business even after Heinz’s death. Heinz’s son Howard Heinz (1877-1941) succeeded his father as president of the company in 1919 and served in that position until his death. Thereafter, Howard’s son, Henry John Heinz II was president from 1941 until 1959, at which time he became chairman of the board. His son, Henry J. Heinz III (b. 1938) graduated from Yale and was the product manager in charge of marketing for H. J. Heinz from 1965 to 1970, at which time he was elected to the U.S. Congress.

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