Already at the age of ten he knew everything about bricks and pickles
HENRY JOHN HEINZ (1844-1919)
The magical Heinz moment dates back to 1892. 48-year-old Henry John Heinz had made a name for himself brining, canning and bottling all kinds of edibles when one day in New York he sat on an aerial train from which he had a good view of the city billboards.
He was struck by an ad for shoes that you could buy in no less than '21 styles'. He started counting how many different products he had in his assortment and ended up somewhere in his sixties, he didn't know exactly.
But while counting, his mind got stuck on the number 57. A magical number, he thought. There was power and it sounded so convincing. 57 was just a good number.
He got off the train, went to his advertising artist, and he designed a poster with the slogan HJ
Heinz and his 57 varieties and ordered them to be installed on all streetcars in the United States. 'Even I myself,' Heinz said later, 'didn't realize at the time how well that slogan would catch on.' Today, the Heinz group produces around three thousand different products around the world, but the number 57 has remained on all packaging.
Henry John, Harry to the friends, had a distinct talent for making his name known. According to legend, he single-handedly saved the Chicago World Expo from destruction in 1893.
The number of visitors was so small that the organizers thought of closing the fair early. Heinz came up with the idea of handing each visitor a small copper token that he could exchange for a souvenir at the Heinz stand.
In a few hours, the whole city was aware. 'The rush of beers and table foamers in the edibles department was so great,' according to a biographer, 'that the floor had to be extra propped up.' 'The king of pickle', the pickle king, handed out more than a million pickles in the form of a watch pendant, later in the form of a pin.
The name Heinz was clearly written between the pickle pimples. The organizers breathed a sigh of relief.
In 1899 he had a 300-meter pier built off the coast of Atlantic City with a huge showroom at the end, on which the inevitable number 57 adorned.
You could follow cooking demonstrations, look at Heinz's art antique collection – the highlight was an Egyptian mummy – and you always got a green pickle pinned to it.
By 1944, when the structure disappeared into the ocean in a hurricane, millions of Americans had visited the original attraction.
Heinz knew everything about two things: pickles and bricks. He was born in 1844 as the eldest of the nine children of Henry and Anna Margaretha Heinz.
The parents had traveled separately from the German Rhineland to the Land of Promise in 1840 and 1843 and had met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was a builder who baked his bricks himself. His mother did the housework.
From the age of eight, he helped her in the vegetable garden behind their home in Sharpsburg, east of Pittsburgh, where the Heinzen had settled shortly after Henry's birth.
The 16-acre garden produced even more than the large family needed. Little Henry, 9 years old, put the leftovers in a basket and sold them door to door. A year later he needed a wheelbarrow, two years later a horse and cart.
He convinced his mother of the usefulness of greenhouses and tripled the cultivated area. Before he turned 16, he had three women working in the yard and driving three cartloads a week to the markets in Pittsburgh.
In his spare time, he attended New York's First Major Illuminated Sign (1200 lamps), a trade school built in 1900 to learn to keep the accounts of his father's brickyard.
He invented heating pipes and equipment to help the bricks dry faster, for which his father rewarded him with a shareholding in the company when he was 21.
Heinz remained a connoisseur of bricks for the rest of his life. And many years later there was still construction somewhere in the Heinz branches, then the old gentleman inevitably turned up to build a piece of the wall as a means of relaxation.
In 1869, he teamed up with two brothers from a wealthy Sharpsburg family to market horseradish, celery sauce and pickles in glass jars. The jars made of colorless glass were a great asset: the housewives were able to assess the quality of the contents well.
Business grew rapidly, but just after signing a contract in 1874 to purchase fixed-price cucumbers and cabbages, the entire area saw a record crop.
While the market was flooded with cheap vegetables, Heinz & Noble had to pay hefty sums for them. The business went bankrupt in no time.
Heinz, who had signed all purchase orders himself, took responsibility personally. At the end of 1874 he wrote in his diary: 'No Christmas presents this year.' And he opened a special book of accounts entitled "The Moral Obligations of Henry J.
Heinz 1875.” As a bankrupt, he had no legal obligations, yet he would pay off the last dollar of debt over the years.
Henry was 31 years old, had a wife and two children, and had no money left. With $1,600 borrowed from his brother John and cousin Frederick and another $1,000 from a friend, he founded on February 14, 1876, under the name 'F. and J. Heinz' started a new food processing company.
The initials were those of his brother and cousin because Henry was not allowed to own shares himself. Frederick was a German-trained florist and gardener, John worked as a production inspector and Henry was on the payroll as a manager.
Twelve years later, in 1888, John decided to move west and Henry, free of debt and moral obligations, paid him off, reorganized the firm and finally started under his own name: HJ Heinz.
On the banks of the Allegheny River, he built a model factory where, by 1900, a thousand women were cooking, mixing, labeling and filling jars with pickles, peppers, sauerkraut and dozens of sauces—not to mention tomato ketchup—and spreads that only Heinz could come up with.
He perfectly connected business with humanity and turned that combination into a commercial asset. The staff had access to a library and a swimming pool, medical facilities were free, as was the weekly manicure.
The fact that each employee had her own cupboard to store her things was also special for those days.
At a time when industrial slave labor was the order of the day and unions were forced to organize themselves, throngs of visitors traveled to Pittsburgh to admire Heinz' women in neatly laundered work clothes, with starched caps and with rested faces.
There, too, everyone got the famous pickle pinned on.
At the same time, New York's first electric neon sign, six stories high at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, featured Heinz 57 Good Things for the Table.
But Heinz was also the only food manufacturer in the United States to advocate, lobby and preach for stricter health food laws in 1904 and 1905. Since then, he has been regarded as a traitor to the other manufacturers.
Heinz was an avid collector. Walking sticks and old watches, Venetian glass and Chinese pottery, crystals, ivory carvings and Chinese sticks, meerschaum pipes and oriental carpets, clocks, swords and fans: nothing was too big or heavy to collect.
In his ten greenhouses he collected plants, trees and flowers: 250 species of orchids and 65 varieties of chrysanthemums. He traveled extensively through Europe and Japan, advocating for good interracial relations wherever he could.
He belonged successively to the Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches and worked as an inspector of Sunday schools for 25 years. He personally led the work to contain flooding of the Allegheny River.
Or as one biographer writes: 'When counting the interests he had as a commoner, you could easily reach the number 57.'
Heinz couldn't sit still for five minutes, but he could walk around the factory for hours and talk to the workers. When asked about his health on the morning of his 71st birthday, he simply jumped over the nearest chair without answering.
His drivers knew that if they got stuck in a traffic jam in the city, he would immediately jump out of the car and continue his journey on foot. Friday, May 9, 1919, at the age of 75, he still spent in the office.
By letter he requested his son, who was staying in Europe, to bring two cannons with him as a souvenir of the Great War. As he left he passed some workers who were throwing each other on a scaffolding of bricks. Stone by stone.
He quickly climbed onto the scaffolding and said, "In my day they did that in fours." He couldn't manage four, but he could easily handle two. From the office windows, the servants watched as the old boss worked up a sweat, despite the chilly wind.
That's how they knew him. On Saturday it seemed as if he had caught a slight cold. He died on Wednesday afternoon. He was buried in Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery.
The small, energetic man with the big mustache was considered one of the 'Lords of Pittsburgh' for many years, along with Andrew Carnegie and George Westinghouse.
That today you can buy a bottle of ketchup in almost every grocery store in the world with that little pickle still on it, the '57 varieties' and the perilous year of birth 1869, would not have surprised Henry Heinz himself in the least.
Or as The Wall Street Journal once wrote, "Before the turn of the century, he was one of the few Americans who considered the whole world his market."
Henry John's heirs still own 30% of the shares. The founder's great-grandson, Republican Senator Henry John Heinz III, was killed in a plane crash in 1991.
His Mozambican widow Teresa leads a philanthropic Heinz foundation that has more than a billion dollars. Teresa Heinz is in the top of the richest Americans of the economic weekly Forbes, with a private wealth of 760 million dollars.
Since the end of 2000, HJ Heinz has owned the Dutch brands Honig, Koninklijke De Ruijter, Hak, Foodmark and the Belgian Anco, for which it paid USD 380 million to the csm group.
The ketchup as we know it today is an invention of Heinz. The direct predecessor of the current recipe is a spicy sauce that the Chinese developed around 1690 for fish and poultry. It consisted of brine of fish and shellfish, thickened with herbs.
British ship cooks tried to replicate the sauce at home. They used mushrooms, nuts and cucumbers to replace the Chinese herbs. The tomatoes are an American addition. A cookbook first mentions 'tomato catsup' in 1792.
Preparing the sauce yourself is complicated and takes a lot of time. Heinz, who knew perfectly how to help women save time, launched his variant in 1876. With great success.
The group sells several hundred different products in which tomatoes are processed worldwide. It needs two million tons of tomatoes per year for this. In some countries, the ketchup is adapted to the local taste.
Today, ketchup is made from tomatoes, vinegar, corn syrup, salt, and other natural flavors. The basic recipe is kept as a military secret. In the United States, at most eight to ten people are aware of the composition.
The biggest difference in taste is determined by the sugar content. Britain and the Commonwealth are sweeter than the US. Central Europe, together with the Netherlands and Belgium, has more spicy varieties.
The latter are produced under the names hot ketchup, Mexican ketchup and curry ketchup in Elst, the Netherlands.
In 2000, HJ Heinz surprised the world with green ketchup, perhaps the first product to upset even the founder, yet the greatest innovator.