Unexpectedly Intriguing!
July 17, 2015

Why would a demonstration for preparing the "new Concentrated Soup" at a department store in the city of Washington D.C., as advertised in the Alexandria Gazette in its 12 January 1898 edition, be so vital for the commercial success of the new product?

To condense the story down to its essential elements, Alexandria, Virginia was the home base of the U.S. Army's Quartermaster General, who was responsible for provisioning the entire U.S. Army to support all its operations. Here, President Grover Cleveland's Secretary of War Daniel S. Lamont had commissioned a board back in 1895-1896 to "consider the merits of various condensed foods as emergency rations for the army", whose use would be patterned after the practices established by the German army.

By 31 May 1896, the board delivered its report to the Secretary of War on what it had learned through its analysis of hundreds of samples submitted by U.S. and foreign firms, including concentrated soups. The Times of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania provided the following report of the board's findings with respect to the soup samples it received:

Another article highly approved by the board is condensed pea soup. This is put up in four-ounce packages, in a dry state, and the contents of one of them will make three pints of rich soup. The stuff is composed of pea flour and beef extract. Trial was made of some that was four years old, and it was quite edible though a little stale. One advantage that it possesses is that it distends the stomach. It is not sufficient to put into a man's stomach so much nutriment; the organ needs to be distended. Four ounces of this material, with water added and a little boiling, will satisfy a soldier's appetite for a day.

But the U.S. Army would need to expand beyond just that product to meet its needs to provision troops in the field, where having a wide range of condensed rations would maximize the effectiveness of limited supply lines.

In 1897, the growing likelihood that the United States would intervene in Cuba's rebellion against Spain drove home the urgency of provisioning U.S. troops with additional, non-emergency condensed rations, which would represent a gold mine for the food companies who could develop and market such a product quickly.

The potential for large government contracts then helps explain what is perhaps the most odd passage that appears in Campbell Soup's official company history:

In 1897, a major milestone occurred when Arthur Dorrance, the general manager of the company, reluctantly hired his 24-year-old nephew to join the company. Dr. John T. Dorrance, a chemist who had trained in Europe, was so determined to join Campbell that he agreed to pay for laboratory equipment out of his own pocket and accept a token salary of just $7.50 per week.

AD Cooper advertisement, Asheville Citizen (Asheville, NC), 3 May 1898, p 4.

Success at gaining government contracts wasn't a given, so to give Dr. Dorrance his due, he was far more visionary than his uncle. And with the subsequent sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana's harbor on 15 February 1898, followed by the U.S. declaration of war against Spain on 21 April 1898 where the U.S. military would be called upon to conduct operations around the world, far more lucky.

Campbell's, which had been losing money in the years preceding John Dorrance's arrival, quickly became profitable within one year after it introduced its line of condensed soups, coincidentally as the U.S. Army exploded in size and needed to conduct far-flung operations in the Caribbean, the Phillippines and elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean, where viable condensed food products would be essential to its success in fielding troops so far from the nation's borders.

And that would certainly account for why Alexandria, Virginia would have been such a crucial market for introducing a new line of condensed soups for the company - it would provide the initial revenue the company would need to market its products to regular consumers to earn its full commercial success!

Speaking of which, the image of the advertisement for "Condensed Tomato Soup" is very likely the first for Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup, although as with the earlier ad for the "new Concentrated Soup", Campbell's is not identified as the product's brand - it would be another two months before Campbell's would begin to be identified with its new line of products in local grocer advertisements. We thought it was appropriate to include with this post because it was published just 12 days after the U.S. Congress declared war against Spain.

References

Library of Congress. Chronicling America. [Online Database]. Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, VA). Vol. XCIX. No. 10. 12 January 1898. p 3. Accessed 5 July 2015.

Library of Congress. The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War. [Online Article]. 22 June 2011. Accessed 5 July 2015.

Liggett, Lori S. Mothers, Militants, Martyrs, & M'm! M'm! Good! Taming the New Woman: Campbell Soup Advertising in Good Housekeeping, 1905-1920. Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate College of Bowling Green State University. [Online Document]. December 2006. pp 74-76. Accessed 5 July 2015.

New York State Education Department. The Spanish American War: Remember the Maine. Citizen Soldier: New York's National Guard in the American Century. [Online Article]. Accessed 5 July 2015.

Newspapers.com. Aluminum for the Army. The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). 31 May 1896. [Online Database]. p. 23. Accessed 5 July 2015.

Newspapers.com. Advertisement: A.D. Cooper - The War Business. Asheville Citizen (Asheville, North Carolina). 3 May 1898. [Online Database]. p. 4. Accessed 5 July 2015.

Sidorick, Daniel. Condensed Capitalism: Campbell Soup and the Pursuit of Cheap Production in the Twentieth Century. Cornell University ILR School Book Samples. 2009. [DigitalCommons]. p. 16.

Smith, Andrew F. The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford University Press. 2006 [via Google Books]. p 88. Accessed 5 July 2015.

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