Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Caught in the mustard mill

‘George McNally was caught in the belts of the mustard mill at 6 p.m. and all his clothes were ripped from his back, and yet not much hurt. God be praised for Mercy.’ This is from the diary of Henry J. Heinz, he of the 57 varieties, who died 100 years ago today. He started out by selling horseradish in glass jars so buyers could see the purity of his product, and, over time, he became a powerful industrial pioneer, one who cared about his employees, about their welfare and safety, as well about the quality of the food he produced and sold across the United States and in the UK. Extensive extracts from his diaries can be found in a 1970s biography.

Heinz was born in Pittsburgh in 1844, the oldest child of German immigrants. While still young, he helped around the house and in the garden; by the age of 14 he was managing his own plot, and supplying customers. After high school, he attended Duff’s Mercantile College. Aged 25, he and his friend L. Clarence Noble founded Heinz Noble & Company which marketed horseradish, packaged in glass jars so as to reveal its purity. That same year, in 1869, he married Sarah Sloan Young, and they would have five children. He was a highly religious man, having been brought up as a Lutheran, but Sarah was a Presbyterian, and it was in the Presbyterian faith that they raised their children.

In 1875, a glut in the horseradish market along with other factors led to Heinz Noble falling bankrupt. Undaunted, Heinz vowed to repay every debt, which he did; and the following year, he and two relatives launched a new company. This grew rapidly, not least selling a new product, tomato ketchup. Heinz eventually bought out his partners and renamed the firm H. J. Heinz Company. To expand his market, he established a relationship with retailers in England; and he built a state-of-the-art factory on the Allegheny River. The company was incorporated in 1905, with Heinz himself as its first president, a position he retained through his life.

Heinz was noted for his benevolent management style as well for fair treatment of workers and pioneering safe and clean food preparation. Indeed, he led a successful lobbying effort, against much of the rest of the food industry, in favour of the first major consumer protection legislation in the US, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. During World War I, he worked with the US Food Administration. He died soon after the war ended, on 14 May 1919. One of his grandsons, John Heinz, would become a US senator; and one of the grandsons of a second cousin would become president - Donald Trump. Further information is available from Wikipedia, John Heinz: A Western Pennsylvania Legacy, Astrum People, Encyclopedia of World Biography, National Geographic, or American Heritage.

Heinz was a keen diarist, documenting his daily life with brief entries for many years. Some 18 or 19 volumes are extant today, covering the years 1875-1894; some diaries mostly from before 1875 are known to have been lost. Although these diaries have not been published in their own right, there are voluminous extracts from them to be found in The Good Provider H. J. Heinz and his 57 varieties by Robert C. Alberts, as published by Arthur Barker (Weidenfeld) in 1973. A digital copy can be borrowed online at Internet Archive.

Alberts describes the diaries as follows: ‘They are peopled by a cross section of the human species of that day: a numerous family, small-town neighbors, stable hands, office clerks, salesmen, executives, disgruntled creditors, competitors, the girls on the food processing lines - 1000 of them in the Pittsburgh factory in 1900. In its homespun prose, the diary gives a picture of life in that time: the way people worked, played, traveled, worshiped, and died; their illnesses and their education; the wages they got and the prices they paid; the way a company was run; the reception of such marvels as electric power, natural gas, the telephone, the automobile. It provides material for a look into a subject not often explored in American biography: the mind, character, and rise to command of an industrial pioneer.’ Here are several of those extracts.

2 November 1875
‘L. C. writes again today that he checked for $300 and will check for $500 tomorrow. This caused me to write and say, for God’s sake quit this promiscuous checking, it is killing me.’

22 November 1875
‘Hardest day on finances we ever had I mean we were as near going to protest as ever we were. E. J. thought we would have to let two notes go to protest, but I managed just seven minutes before three to check on Sharpsburg through Peoples and got a certified check for $1,200.’

28 November 1876
‘John Heinz had a lawsuit about an old horse today and had to pay costs. He is learning that courts don’t always give justice.’

10 December 1876
‘Zero through the day. We all remained home. It is very inconvenient to attend church when living in the country.’

5 August 1877
‘Pittsburgh. Arrived at 9 a.m. and saw all the ruins caused by the mob during the Great Rail Road Strike. It is the awfullest looking sight I ever saw. Millions of property burned down.’

2 November 1877
‘Mr. J. Wilson of Chicago is in our city and spends all day until midnight with us. Had quite a confidential talk with him on our past trouble. After all of our conversation he even gave me a check to help me out of a tight place, which we mailed him one week later, which was today. He also changed our terms from cash to 30 days.’

8 February 1878
‘John and I had a few words because he misses the first train in the morning.’

19 February 1878
‘There was a meeting of creditors today of H. N. & Co. There were only about 15 creditors present. They decided to pay 11% of a dividend and then close up and declare a final one again.’

17 May 1878
‘George McNally was caught in the belts of the mustard mill at 6 p.m. and all his clothes were ripped from his back, and yet not much hurt. God be praised for Mercy.’

10 November 1878
‘I enjoyed this day very much. Sunday School at 9:15. Met my class. All well. Then to Christ Church to hear Dr Morgan and to Mission Sunday School at 2 p.m. Then to hear Reverend E. M. Wood at 7:30 p.m. at Christ M. E. Church. To class at 6:15. So on the whole, my day was all taken up except about two hours which I enjoyed with my family.’

16 November 1878
‘Maggie Keil called at office for donation of pickles for Grace Church Festival. We supplied her with all they wanted and the church has our best wishes. Bought Clarence a suit for $6.50 and suits for the children and just wonder how some people who have a large family get along on small salary.’

2 December 1878
‘Had to speak plainly to the bill clerk, as he delayed some invoices last night and insisted it must not happen again. Also called all the girls together upstairs. Told them we would not allow talking during working hours except such as was necessary to do their work, etc. All was kindly received. Good feeling throughout the house.’

16 December 1878
‘Watkins, the jelly man, called and was under the influence of liquor. I told him to call when his head would be clear. Mrs. Jacob Covode called today to dine with us. I loaned her $75.’

4 February 1879
‘Irene and Clarence begin going to Public School this a.m. for the first time in their lives. Irene is just 7 years, 7 months old this day and Clarence will be 6 years old on the 7th of April 1879. They express themselves as delighted and prefer it to the kindergarten. We buy them each a five cent slate and pencil at close of the first day’s school and they go and pick it themselves. Neither know their letters. We have kept them from it on purpose and desire to see if they won’t learn all the better.’

3 December 1880
‘Brother Peter leaves for Cincinnati tonight to commence canvassing that city for the first time on bulk goods by wagon, in Peter’s peculiar style but a very successful one. He surpasses all of our agents in this agency plan of introducing goods. We shipped him $1,200 worth of goods to Cincinnati and a span of spotted horses, new covered wagons, and harness by boat.’

8 December 1880
‘Brother John went up to Scott, the dentist, with Atorney John W. Hague to rescue a girl in our employ, as the dentist acted like a crazy man. An article in the city papers gave a statement saying Mr. H., which people took for me, as I am called the pickle man. This is very annoying to me, as `Brother John so often gets into lawsuits, etc., but he is learning that it does not pay.’

23 April 1885
‘Fire in Sharpsburg at 12:15 this early morning. The town fire bell rang. We saw quite a fire, we supposed in Etna. We retired and this morning found eleven houses, the entire block from Main to Clay Street and from Church Alley and Tenth. We hope this will stimulate the old bogies to vote for a water works, which they have opposed.’

29 April 1887
‘Am reading up on roses and flowers and pleasure in cultivating them. Spent over $250 on trees and flowers this year.’

17 February 1888
‘Orlando. Most people are anxious to sell. They ask from $1000 to $3000 per acre for groves from six to twenty years old and [indecipherable word] within one-half to three miles of the post office. The town is partially surrounded by lakes and they are beauties. Have not allowed myself to be persuaded to invest.’

15 December 1888
‘New York. Very busy but took time to purchase Irene a bracelet at Tiffanys.’

24 December  1888
‘I purchased the most extravagant Christmas gift of my life at W. W. Wattles today, a diamond pin (three stones), fine in plain figures, $710, but concluded a woman so modest and kind was deserving of something while I could pay cash and had no debts.’

No comments: