Little Known Factoid:

Jell-O is so NOT a fruit, it's amazing. They make Jell-O by throwing pork and beef skins in a big vat of acid, and then skimming off what comes to the surface. Then they dry it, powder it, mix it with artificial flavoring, put it in an attractive box covered with fruit, and hire Bill Cosby to sell it.

But Jell-O counts as a fruit, at least to the elementary schools who serve it to American school children. It's even been deemed kosher by some rabbi who decided that a large number of non-sequential bills apparently made a pork product suitable for consumption by his Jewish brethren.

The wobbly story of Jell-O began in the year 1845, when the great American industrialist Peter Cooper was granted a patent for a "gelatine dessert".

Cooper, inventor of the Tom Thumb steam locomotive engine, and philanthropic founder of New York City's Cooper Union engineering school, was born in the year 1791 in New York City. Cooper's other great achievements included his financial backing of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, and his proposition to President Lincoln that the US Civil War might be averted if all four million southern slaves were simply bought by the northern states, and freed.

In the year 1897, some fifty-two years after Cooper's patent, a fruit-flavoured gelatine desert was developed by Mr Pearl B. Wait. This sweet preparation was named Jell-O by Wait's wife, May Davis Wait. The Waits manufactured their powdered dessert from their hometown of LeRoy, New York, USA, in four flavours: orange, lemon, raspberry and strawberry.

Sales of Jell-O were slow for the Waits, and so they sold the Jell-O business to their next-door neighbour, the entrepreneur Orator Francis Woodward, for $US450.

For several years, Woodward's company, the Genesee Pure Food Company also had little success with the product. Sales were so poor, in fact, that Woodward offered the entire business to the Jell-O factory's superintendent for $35. In one of the poorest business decisions of the nineteenth century, Woodward's super declined the offer.

Woodward stuck with the product, and eventually started to build fair sales in the first few two years of the 1900's via a strategy of sampling. In the year 1902, he ran the first ever Jell-O press advertisment, in the Ladie' s Home Journal magazine, describing Jell-O as "America's Most Famous Dessert". The three-inch advert cost Genesee $336, and contributed to taking sales to $250,000 in that year.

Throughout the early years of the twentieth century, the Genesee company continued its strategy of marketing the product to domestic home-makers, via press advertisments and a famous (and now highly collectable) series of recipe booklets and informational pamphlets. America's most famous cooks and home economists featured their own recipes, always incorporating Jell-O, in these publications. Interestingly, some of these recipes were savoury, such as Jellied Manhattan Salad and Egg Slices en Gelée.

Jell-O was, by the start of the first world war, entrenched as staple part of American domestic life. Jell-O was so feted that immigrants disembarking at New York's famous Ellis Island were given bowls of Jell-O as a "Welcome to America" gesture.

In November 1923, the Genesee Pure Food Company changed its name to the Jell-O Company, as a strategy to protect its trademark from imitators. In 1925, the Jell-O Company was aquired by the Postrum Company, which was later to become General Foods and ultimately Kraft Foods. By this year of 1923, Woodward's $450 investment was worth $67,000,000.

Some interesting Jell-O facts:

  • The dessert-eating public of Salt Lake City, Utah, consume more Lime Jell-O than any other place in the world.
  • In 1993, medical researchers from the St Jerome Hospital in Batavia performed an experiment on a bowl of Lime Jell-O. They discovered, by attaching the bowl to an EEG machine, that the motion of the set Jell-O has exactly the same waveforms as the human adult brain.
  • Jell-O was inducted into the Smithsonian Institute in 1991
  • The first Jell-O in space was aboard the Russian space station Mir, in 1996

At the time of writing, Kraft Foods claims sales of over 400,000,000 boxes of Jell-O per annum, across a product range incorporating over 450 individual lines.

RESEARCH SOURCES INCLUDE THE JELL-O MUSEUM OF LEROY, NEW YORK, KRAFT FOODS, AND THE UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON.

Jell-O water is something I keep recommending to people for sore throats and upset tummies, and I get a lot of "What in the world are you talking about??". I thought it was a common home remedy, but apparently I was mistaken. So, rather than regularly expounding on its marvelous palliative properties in the catbox, I'll node it here so all may rejoice in the goodness that is Jell-O water.

To make Jell-O water, take a normal 3 oz packet of Jell-O (I recommend any of the red flavors, but they have the drawback that if you vomit, the medical provider of your choice will be unable to tell if there is any blood in your vomitus...). To make regular Jell-O, you're supposed to add one cup of boiling water and one cup of cold water. For Jell-O water, take three to four cups of boiling water instead, stir the powder til it's dissolved, then let it cool enough to drink.

Drink it as hot as you can tolerate. The sugar gives you some energy and relieves the hypoglycemic queasiness that comes from not eating for awhile, and the gelatin coats and soothes your throat and stomach. I have found this to be one of the best tolerated foods for patients who are nauseated, and it can also do wonders for a sore throat.

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