Hundred-year-old Monsanto Saccharin Advertisement

Source: American Food Journal (February, 1916)
Source: American Food Journal (February, 1916)

Sometimes I’m in awe of (or perhaps a better wording is “shocked by”) some of the things I find in advertisements from a hundred years ago.  This 1916 advertisement for saccharin appeared in a trade magazine for food processors.

Saccharin was banned in 1911 by the Pure Food Referee Board in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to an article in National Food Magazine called “The Passing of Saccharin”:

It has a preservative power and is very cheap. But the Referee Board, which has been investigating Saccharin, has found it guilty of causing indigestion and otherwise injuring the system. Therefore, the government has issued a ruling entirely prohibiting its use after July 1.

National Food Magazine (June, 1911)

In 1912, the government reversed the decision and again allowed the use of saccharin, but it remained controversial – thus the advertisement in the trade magazine explaining why saccharin “won”.

Temperance, Suffragettes, Pure Food, Anti-trust Legislation, and Patent Medicines

 January 10, 1911: Missing entry (Diary resumes on January 12)

 Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later: 

Times were different in 1911. It was before Prohibition, patent medicines containing opium could be purchased without a prescription, and women could not vote. Neither World War I nor World War II had yet occurred.

The unemployment rate 6.2%. Only 3% of the people in the United States had a college degree.

The suffragettes were organizing and marching for their rights—though it would be another 9 years before women won the right to vote.

William Taft was president. He is generally remembered for getting stuck in the White House bath tub. But, he also brought about positive changes by signing anti-trust legislation and breaking up monopolies.  

1911 was a heady time. Corporate greed, led by the robber barons had created many problems and inequities. Muckrakers–in today’s world they’d probably be called investigative reporters–used their pens to highlight the many problems and horrors that may have been caused by monopolies. And, the Standard Oil monopoly was finally broken up in 1911. (In history books this is generally seen as one of the key events in 1911).  

Hatchet-wielding temperance advocate Carrie Nation died on July 9, 1911, but many women’s clubs across the nation continued her efforts–though the law that enacted prohibition wasn’t passed until 1919.

Carrie Nation

Workers had few rights in 1911. Federal child labor laws would not be passed until 1918. Grandma lived in the agricultural portion of Northumberland County–but the far end of the county contained some of the largest anthracite coal mines in the US. Those mines–as well as other industries, but the mines were some of the most notorious–relied upon cheap child labor to do some of the jobs. Muckrakers and photographers were highlighting the horrors of the practice.

In March 1911 a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City killed 146 garment workers because the doors had been locked to keep the workers from leaving early. This led to laws requiring better factory safety standards.

A few years before 1911 Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, which highlighted the horrible conditions in the Chicago meat-packing plants, and the unsafe, adulterated foods coming out of the plants.

In 1911 people were furious about chemically-laden foods and demanding safe, pure food that did not contain chemical preservatives or unfit materials. In July 1911 the use saccharin was banned by the US Department of Agriculture. (The decision would be reversed in 1912).    

Did these national issues affect Grandma? Or as a teen in rural Pennsylvania did she have little overt awareness of the bigger picture?