Crisco Advertisements at the Dawn of the 20th Century

Minny Jackson in “The Help” recommends that it will remove gum from your hair and cure diaper rash. You can use it as a moisturizer or to soften your husbands scaly feet. She says it can clean the goo from a price tag and even take the squeak out of a door hinge. If your lights get cut off, stick a wick in it and burn it like a candle. And after all of that, she says, it will still fry your chicken! Crisco is a vegetable-based shortening used primarily for cooking, but has since been vilified for its negative health effects. Nonetheless, since its invention in 1910, Procter & Gamble have used many ways to make Crisco attractive to their ever-evolving audience of housewives.

Crisco. “Pure food from a clean factory” advertisement. 1915.

At the beginning of its history, Crisco was marketed as a new, exciting, and scientific discovery. The explanation to the whipped texture of their product–hydrogen atoms,–made housework seem more scientific and made women’s work sound more legitimate. To counteract its scientific nature, Crisco’s clean and pure image came into play to assure their consumers that it was completely safe for consumption. In this 1915 advertisement, the catch copy, “Clean food from a clean factory,” emphasizes the organized interior of the factory and the clean, white uniforms of the workers. The workers pictured in the ad are all women; to convey the message of purity and cleanliness Crisco utilized women daintily dressed in white. From this, it can be said that women were considered to be clean and pure, just like Crisco! Furthermore, the original packaging came in a can, and inside the can was another wrapper, and within the wrapper was the actual Crisco, ensuring that the product would be fresh when the consumer first opened it. Cleanliness and purity were two key phrases when looking at advertisements from this era.

Crisco Advertisement. “Food will win the war; don’t waste it.” 1918.

A few years later, towards the end of World War I, Crisco advertisements started to take a different turn. Advertisements still featured women, but the ads started to suggest that, not only was Crisco superior to substitutes such as lard and butter, but it was also the patriotic choice. The banner of this 1918 advertisement, “Food Will Win the War: Don’t Waste It!” suggests women best to help the war effort from their own kitchens. Crisco was the perfect for this movement because as early as 1913, they were advertising how economical the product was, showing how the product–after being strained–could be used over and over again.

Hebrew Crisco Recipes Cookbook. 1933.

Hebrew advertisements for Crisco. 1938.

Crisco also marketed toward certain ethnic groups, specifically Jewish immigrants. Procter & Gamble, when first releasing Crisco, sent it to grocers across the United States to have “Crisco teas” to promote and publicize the product. Word spread quickly. When Crisco reached Cincinnati, the Cincinnati rabbi is rumored to have said, “The Hebrew race had been waiting 4,000 years for Crisco.” The plant-based nature of Crisco fell within the Jewish dietary restrictions, making it the perfect product to market towards Jewish immigrants. Procter & Gamble quickly caught on and began advertising in Hebrew, to appeal to older generations within immigrant families, who couldn’t speak English and didn’t work, thus would be in the house doing housework most of the time. The pinnacle of this is the Hebrew Crisco cookbook released in 1933. The cookbook was written in both Hebrew and English, to appeal to both the older and younger generation in a Jewish family. Moreover, this bilingual cookbook also worked as a useful tool in learning English within the kitchen, for women who did not work nor have chances to go outside of their Jewish community.

Through the first few decades of the 20th century, Procter & Gamble have taken many approaches to influence housewives to give Crisco a try. Procter & Gamble were also very quick to realize exactly what type of people their product would appeal to, and were very effective in terms of advertising to catch the attention of their target audience. Not only did they market towards ethnic groups, but they also challenged American women to prove their identity by using their products. Although Crisco is not considered an unhealthy indulgence of the past, the marks it has left on advertising technique will last forever.


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