1904: “Heinz house is brought by boat to Pittsburgh”
What’s the quintessential image of Pittsburgh’s past? Well, for most of the world it’s a picture of massive machinery, angry flames, billowing smoke and, dwarfed by it all, a man — the steelworker.
The news yesterday that Heinz is being sold reminds us, however, that the image could easily be that of a bright and spotless factory, an assembly line of stainless steel and white-capped women — food workers at the H.J. Heinz Co.
Heinz and his company revolutionized the way food was produced and marketed. Heinz gave us “57 varieties” and taught us that food produced in a factory could be not only edible and safe, but tasty.
The Heinz story begins in the 1850s in Sharpsburg, where H.J. Heinz famously started his career as a boy selling horseradish. After a few decades of success and then a painful bankruptcy, he launched the F. and J. Heinz Co., which was later renamed H.J. Heinz Co.
We found in our files a picture of the house where H.J. Heinz founded his company being floated down the Allegheny River in 1904. The structure was moved from its original location in Sharpsburg to the site of the Heinz factories here in Pittsburgh. Don’t go looking for the house — it’s now at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich.
By all accounts, Heinz was a man of great flair and salesmanship. He gave away pickle pins and wore a marvelous set of mutton chops. Folks knew him as the Pickle King, and he was cut from different cloth than other industrial kings of the time, men like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, who often seemed ruthless.
Heinz lobbied for laws to regulate the food industry, and his North Side factory was designed to be a healthy, pleasing place to work. It offered a restaurant, a rooftop garden, a gymnasium, an emergency hospital and self-improvement classes. When it opened in 1898, he offered tours. Thousands visited the facility each year.
The Heinz factory buildings remain, but the company no longer makes products in Pittsburgh. Still, we have the Heinz corporate headquarters, Heinz Field with its ketchup bottle scoreboard, Heinz Hall, Heinz Chapel, the Heinz Endowments and that wonderful old lighted Heinz sign atop the Heinz History Center.
We’re a steel town, certainly, but, man, the pickle is king.
— Steve Mellon
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