Henry John Heinz: Founder of the Condiment Empire

Find out how a man of good taste built a multi-billion business legacy founded on transparency, hard work, quality, and excellence. Let us relive the story of the “Pickle King” Henry John Heinz.
Birthplace: Pittsburgh, USA
Industry: Packaged Food
Success: H J Heinz Company
Influence: Pure Food Act of 1906

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Brian Hadi Attarbashi
Updated on:
Jun 17, 2022
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A True Food Pioneer

There are stories of inspiring people who have shown business acuity, great leadership, courage, integrity, and kindness. 

We couldn't help but admire their character and salute their legacy.

One such person is Henry John Heinz. Heinz was a genius pickles magnate with the kind eyes, caring face, flowing mustache, and side-whiskers of long ago.

Let us revisit the life of the food king and behold his 57 varieties!

Early Life

In the 1840s, there was a massive influx of German immigrants to the United States. 

Wars, economic downturns, and religious conflicts drove these people to the other side of the Atlantic, searching for greener pastures.

America was marketed as a place with plentiful employment opportunities, affordable, fertile land, and economical living. 

Family

The Heinz family history can be traced back to Bavaria, where the Heinz family tree includes the Trump clan, ancestors of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump.

Henry's father, John Henry Heinz, emigrated from Bavaria, Germany, to Pittsburgh's south side in 1840, when he was twenty-nine years old. Anna Schmidt, his mother, made the same trip with her family three years later when she was twenty-one.

In 1843, John Henry and Anna met and married, and Henry John Heinz, the first of eight children, was born on October 11, 1844.

These hardy German Lutherans brought with them a variety of skills and attitudes. They were hardworking, devoutly religious, and had high ethical standards; they knew building and brickmaking, carpentry, and, above all, farming.

Like many other German families, the Heinz family had a large garden where they grew their own vegetables.

Young HJ and his younger siblings worked long hours tending to this garden. At nine, the young HJ sold the garden's excess harvest to other Sharpsburg families. 

His parents gave him his own three-quarters acre to use as he pleased when he was ten years old, demonstrating his entrepreneurial spirit.

He had his three and a half acre farm at twelve and soon bartered his wheelbarrow for a horse and cart to sell more products.

Henry then began a lifetime of experimentation with various crops and seeds, learning what worked best and documenting each experiment. He studied his mother's old country recipes too.

Not only that, he was consumed with studying his customers, discovering what they desired and preferred. He kept copious notes on farm production, processing methods, and, most importantly, customer preferences.

However, working on the farm and selling produce did not occupy all of HJ's energies, as, by the age of ten, Henry was doing odd jobs for neighbors and working in his father's brickyard.

He learned the value of chemistry and temperature control, handling bulk materials, and the importance of ingredient quality and quantity in the brickyard. 

His mother instilled solid religious beliefs in him during his childhood, and he spent his entire life as a Sunday School teacher.

Growing and selling garden produce was his genuine passion by the age of fifteen. His first focus was horseradish. 

HJ discovered that by using more expensive clear glass bottles, he could ensure the purity of his product. And using clear vinegar instead of brown apple cider vinegar brought out the best in the horseradish. 

Back then, homemakers grated the plant to make their own horseradish pickles. It required patience, bruised knuckles, and watery eyes. Henry John Heinz's bottled horseradish was an early "convenience food," saving time and energy. 

Henry John Heinz's bottled horseradish

HJ soon found himself in Pittsburgh, selling this and other pre-made products to hotels, restaurants, wholesale and retail grocers.

Education

HJ went to Duff's Mercantile College in Pittsburgh to learn double-entry bookkeeping, which he needed to keep the books for his father's brickyard business and, later, his very own.

By the age of twenty-one, HJ was not only a full partner in his father's brickyard but also running a thriving vegetable and horseradish business.

Early Career

First Venture: The Heinz, Noble Years

First Venture: The Heinz, Noble Years

1869 was a defining moment for Henry John Heinz, then twenty-four years old. 

He founded the Heinz, Noble, and Company with his relatively wealthy friend Clarence Noble and Noble's brother, EJ, to manufacture and market fruit preserves, mustard, pickles, horseradish, and catsup.

Henry sells to Pittsburgh hotels, restaurants, and grocers and quickly expanded to neighboring cities, eventually reaching Ohio and the East Coast. 

As the business grew, the company contracted for more cucumber production (for pickles) on the better soil of Illinois.

Heinz, Noble experienced rapid growth over the next six years. 

Under HJ's direction, the company expanded its product line, constantly testing and adding new products such as sauerkraut and vinegar.

They developed a "brand," which was unusual at the time because most foods were sold in undifferentiated barrels. 

They used the Heinz and Noble name, but they also created the Anchor brand. HJ began early product differentiation experiments by offering higher and lower quality products at different prices.

The best came in custom-designed glass packaging embossed with the company or brand name. They aimed these bottles and jars at individual customers' tables, supplementing barrels sold to grocers.

custom-designed glass packaging

The Heinz, Noble company grew into a sizable corporation, employing 150 people during peak harvesting season. The company could produce 500 barrels of sauerkraut, 15,000 barrels of pickles, and 50,000 barrels of vinegar per year. 

The company was featured in the Pittsburgh press as one of the city's fastest-growing businesses.

However, by 1875, The Panic of 1873 had hit Pittsburgh hard, bankrupting Heinz and Noble and plunging HJ into a deep personal depression by December 1875.

Early Setback

What caused the Panic of 1873?

Railroads were the largest non-agricultural employer in the United States. Banks and other industries were investing in railroads. A significant economic panic swept the country when Jay Cooke and Company, a banking firm heavily invested in railroad construction, closed its doors on September 18, 1873.

The Panic of 1873 spawned economic chaos in the United States, and Henry's business was one of many that suffered. 

By 1875, horseradish was in short supply, and no one wanted to pay for pickled horseradish when they could buy it for almost nothing.

It was a blow to Heinz's ego when he and Noble were forced to declare bankruptcy.

Big Break

But Henry John Heinz believed in the quality of his food and was determined to succeed, so he returned to the bottled pickle business. 

He, too, was an honorable man who desired to pay his creditors.

In 1877, he founded F & J Heinz with his brother John and a cousin named Frederick as partners to manufacture bottled pickles, condiments, and other canned goods.

The company prospered, and Henry John Heinz fulfilled his obligations. And in 1888, Heinz bought out his partners and reorganized the company as named it  H J Heinz Company.

H J Heinz Company

Henry J Heinz sincerely believed that people would buy his products if they could only try them. So Henry constantly traveled around the country to promote the products.

In trains, he let commuters sample his products, even inventing a special cardboard spoon that clients can throw away after use.

Henry J Heinz products

Soon Henry John Heinz was known all over the country as the 'Pickle King.'

57 Varieties

57 Varieties

Did you know? 

As the number of his products increased, Henry John Heinz considered a slogan. 

Henry John Heinz is well-known for its "57 varieties," but by the time the company began using the number, it already had over 60 products.

While most advertising slogans are created by 'creatives' on Madison Avenue, the creation of the famous Heinz advertising phrase is shrouded in great mystery.

The number was incorrect, and it would become far too low over time, but Henry John Heinz liked it. It didn't seem to matter that the company had more than 57 products. The number combines Heinz's and his wife's favorite numbers, 5 and 7.

The "magic" number came to be associated with the H.J. Heinz Company, and it lasted long after Heinz handed control of his vast empire to his son. 

By 1896, Henry was a millionaire and a household name. Henry John Heinz plastered his name on billboards, magazines, and newspapers to increase awareness of his company's products.

Without seeing his name, you cannot go anywhere, precisely what Henry John Heinz intended. The bright red products were visible in advertisements and on store shelves.

Timeline of Heinz Products

History of Ketchup 

Texts dating back to 300 BC describe the use of fermented pastes made from fish entrails, meat byproducts, and soybeans. 

The fish sauce, known as "ge-thcup" or "koe-cheup" by Southern Min speakers, was easy to transport on long ocean voyages.

By the early 1700s, the pastes had spread along trade routes to the Philippines and Indonesia, where British traders liked the taste of the salty condiment. They took samples home and attempted to replicate the fermented sauce.

Finally, the first recipe for tomato-based ketchup was published in 1812. James Mease, a Philadelphia scientist, created the recipe. He claimed that the best ketchup came from "love apples," as tomatoes were known back then.

Before vinegar became a common ingredient, preserving tomato-based sauces was difficult because the fruits decomposed quickly. 

In 1876, Henry John Heinz introduced its famous recipe, a mix of tomatoes, brown sugar, distilled vinegar, salt, and spices. 

Tomato-based ketchup has gradually become the most common type of condiment in the United States and Europe. 

Heinz is now the best-selling ketchup company in the United States, with over 650 million bottles sold each year. 

Do-it-yourself ketchup recipes have all but vanished with the rise of commercial ketchup. 

And, at least in the United States, it's challenging to imagine ketchup as anything other than bright red and tomato-y.

Challenges

Food-safety issues arose over the course of the 19th century because of the absence of any regulation.

Folklore and quackery dominated people’s food preferences and intake. However, reformers gave way to new scientific discoveries, commercialization, and finally, government regulation.

In 1904, an American journalist, Upton Sinclair, spent seven weeks gathering information while working incognito in the meat packing plants in Chicago for the newspaper Appeal to Reason. 

He described the standard of the meat packing process as such, "This is no fairy story and no joke; workers would shovel the meat into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one."

Sinclair first published the novel in serial form in 1905 in the newspaper, and later on as a book entitled The Jungle by Doubleday in 1906.

The primary goal of Sinclair's description of the meat industry and its working conditions was to advance socialism in the United States. 

Most readers, however, were more concerned with exposing unsanitary practices and health violations in the American meat packing industry during the early twentieth century, which contributed significantly to a public outcry that led to reforms, specifically the Meat Inspection Act.

During this same period, Henry John Heinz became a model of enlightenment for his pristine factories and his humane treatment of workers.

One of the few businessmen of his time to care, Henry John Heinz did not allow his factories to be dirty, unsanitary, and dangerous. His company was the first ever in the country to offer many unheard-of amenities to its workers.

Henry John Heinz factories

A Heinz factory tour would reveal built locker rooms, dressing rooms, and dining rooms for its workers. For his employees, he provided clean, fresh, free uniforms in order to prevent them from bringing dirty street clothes into the factory. 

In the old Heinz factory in Pittsburgh, he even provided a manicure and washing service on-site.

Henry J. Heinz was both a clever capitalist and a concerned citizen. Unlike many of the period's infamous capitalists, he could run his business without jeopardizing his personal beliefs or ethics.

Heinz joined the fight for a federal Pure Food Act to grow his business and implement his personal and firm beliefs in the food industry on a national scale with long-term effects. The Pure Food and Drug Act made national sense, commercial sense for his company, and had a significant impact on the nation's health.

Overall, Henry John Heinz "played a critical role in enacting, interpreting, and enforcing the 1906 statute, and he was behind every meeting with President Roosevelt up to the hilt.

The Pure Food and Drug Act passed into legislation in 1906 thanks to the lobbying efforts of Heinz.

He succeeded in winning back trust in the food industry. Suppose Henry J. Heinz had not joined the pure food cause. In that case, it might not have been successful. Many manufacturers might still use many more harmful preservatives and hazardous chemicals to conceal low-quality food, which would impact the health of millions.

The Present Day Heinz

The Present Day Heinz

Today, the Heinz company, which has merged with Kraft Foods to form Kraft Heinz, is now 49 percent owned by public stockholders. The market share is 30% of the $2 billion-plus global ketchup market, the highest ever in company history.

Kraft Heinz continues to sell other products and has aggressively promoted newer items such as mustard and mayonnaise under the new ownership. It has reduced the amount of additives in its products and prioritized purity. 

The Kraft Heinz Company is North America's third largest food and beverage company and the world's fifth largest food and beverage company. The Kraft Heinz Company is a globally recognized manufacturer of delicious foods.

In July 2018, Kraft Heinz announced it would make all of its global packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

The man, Henry John Heinz, would be pleased! We can expect this company to thrive for many more decades.

Kraft Heinz Fast facts:

  • Revenue: 26.04 billion USD (2021)
  • Employees: 36,000 people (2021)
  • Kraft Heinz is present  in over 170 countries
  • The company has 150 number-one or number-two brands in the world.
A Transformational Merger: The Kraft Heinz Company

Personal Life

On September 3, 1869, Henry J. Heinz married Sarah Sloan Young, who was of Scots-Irish ancestry, and she grew up in the Presbyterian Church. They had five kids namely: 

  • Irene Edwilda Heinz-Given (1871–1956)
  • Clarence Henry Heinz (1873–1920)
  • Howard Covode Heinz (1877–1941)
  • Robert Eugene Heinz (1882–1882)
  • Clifford Sloan Heinz (1883–1935)

Heinz died on May 14, 1919, at his home of pneumonia. East Liberty Presbyterian Church hosted his funeral. They lay him to rest in the Heinz Family Mausoleum at Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

Heinz Family Mausoleum

LEGACY

LEGACY

There have been many in the business world who have achieved success but Henry J. Heinz achieved success in such a manner that even the most strait-laced moralist and student of ethics can find nothing about his career or personal life to condemn.

Heinz placed God, his country, and his home above his business. He sincerely wanted to be a help to his fellow men more than he wanted to be a giant in the industry.

As I did not become a priest, I have to find another way to do some good to mankind. – Henry John Heinz

Family

The Heinz family elder, Henry, made it clear how important it was to contribute to society. Henry J. Heinz's children and succeeding Heinz generations manifested this idea. Public service is a recurring theme, and with each family member, it reflects personal passions and concerns.

Many of Heinz's descendants are known to ‌possess his business acumen and fair leadership. Many of his descendants were involved in philanthropy, and some played prominent roles in politics and society.

Henry's son Howard Heinz succeeded him in the management of the business empire. He followed the main principles of his father. Thus he was able to stir the company through the Great Depression. He was an excellent manager who could anticipate the demands of the market. 

Jack Heinz II

In 1941, Jack Heinz II, Henry's grandson, headed the company. He was a visionary leader. He expanded the family business by building factories worldwide.

Heinz is the great-grandfather of Pennsylvania Senator John Heinz.

Senator John Heinz

Interesting tidbit: 

How much is Henry Heinz's net worth? Heinz is estimated to be worth between $750 million and $1.2 billion.

Business Influence

Henry John Heinz was a financial genius, a powerful force in the industrial world. He was a proponent of business ethics, marketing strategies, and employee respect. These are his most significant influence in the business world.

Henry J. Heinz left a massive mark on the industry by showing how employees should be treated and how vital quality is to every aspect of a business. 

It is quite natural that there has been no general strike by the Heinz employees. He realized he could do to make the workers’ tasks lighter and more pleasant, and he did his best to do it. The plant to him was not an endless tangle of machine-like humans; it was a great big happy family.

Through the passage Pure Food Act, not only the US but the world benefited from clean, pure, and nutritious packaged food. We owe that to Henry J. Heinz.

Henry Heinz’s biography reveals that he was both astute and prudent with his wealth. He generously donated to charitable and educational organizations. His endowment has allowed him to continue his generous work.

One of his favorite sayings was, "Make all you can honestly, save all you can prudently, and give all you can wisely," which was followed by, "He who enjoys the first two (making an honest living and saving prudently) but denies himself the greatest enjoyment of life."

The Heinz Foundation

It is heartwarming to know that the apples didn’t fall far from the tree. The Heinz clan took after their beloved patriarch and continued their quest to help humanity.

The Heinz Foundations are multiple charitable foundations founded by Pittsburgh-based Heinz Foods dynasty descendants.

The foundations have two aspects:

The Heinz Family Philanthropies are based in Washington, DC, and fund:

  • The Heinz Family Foundation
  • The H. John Heinz III Foundation
  • The Teresa and H. John Heinz III Foundation

Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments fund:

  • Vira I. Heinz Endowment
  • Howard Heinz Endowment

Henry Heinz Quotes on Life and Business

Henry Joseph Heinz is very well-known for his musings and inspirational words. Here are some of the most famous:

Protect the consumer by owning the product all the way from the soil to the table. Henry J. Heinz

Mountains and oceans do not furnish any impassable barrier to the extension of trade. Henry J. Heinz

To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success. Henry J. Heinz

Heart power is stronger than horsepower. Henry J. Heinz

And the favorite:

It is more pleasant to remember others than to be remembered. Henry J. Heinz

Indeed! However, In Henry’s case, we would beg to disagree, for he is fondly remembered and his legacy lives on.

Honors

A bronze statue of Henry Heinz by Emil Fuchs was dedicated on October 11, 1924, at the Heinz Company building in Pittsburgh.

bronze statue of Henry Heinz by Emil Fuchs

On-campus at the University of Pittsburgh stood a beautiful chapel, the Heinz Memorial Chapel. It was opened in 1938.

Heinz Memorial Chapel

It is a memorial to Henry and his mother. It is a non-denominational church and a very popular venue for weddings. 

Key Takeaway

He was generations ahead of his age. He pioneered many aspects: healthy food production, excellent marketing strategy, business integrity, branding, and empathic leadership.

Henry Heinz's tenacity to advance his great idea is a blessing to humankind. 

Because of his passion and determination to advance what he knows and believes to be top-of-the-line food, generations across the world can partake in the fruits of his labor. Not only the food itself, but workers can find a job in a workplace that treats employees well.

He manages business and people so well.

A placard that hung on the walls of Henry John Heinz’s offices summed up Heinz’s approach to his workers: “Find your Man, Train your Man, Inspire your Man, and you will keep your Man.”

The extraordinary man himself said, “It is neither capital nor labor but manage Rachel Romer Carlson: The Education Genius Behind Employee Retentionement that brings success, since management will attract capital, and capital can employ labor. “

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Brian Hadi Attarbashi

Brian is the CEO of AI bees. When he is not running the company with German precision, Brian writes expert articles about marketing and manufacturing. When not doing these, you will find him rescuing dogs or mowing competition down at a jiu jitsu studio.

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