Jell-O, the jiggly treat that has delighted billions of happy childhood days, is the number one thing that helped put Genesee County on the map, according to historian and Holland Land Office Museum direct Pat Weissand.
Americans love Jell-O. In fact, Americans eat more than 300 million boxes of Jell-O every year and about 160 products are sold under the Jell-O name. Jell-O is as much a part of Americana as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. By proclamation of the state governor, it is the official state snack of Utah. Residents of Utah eat more Jell-O per capita than anyone else.
Jell-O is an American icon. Since the early days of the company, Jell-O has mastered the technique of successful advertising campaigns. They used well-known artists such as Rose O'Neil, Maxfield Parrish, Cole Philips and Norman Rockwell in their print advertising; Jack Benny, Lucille Ball and Kate Smith in radio advertising and Bill Cosby in their television marketing campaigns.
Wikipedia says powered gelatin was patented 40 years before it was dubbed Jell-O in LeRoy, N.Y.
Gelatin has been well known and used for many years. It was popularized in the Victorian era with spectacular and complex "jelly moulds". Gelatin was sold in sheets and had to be purified, which was very time-consuming. It also made gelatin desserts the province of the relatively well-to-do. In 1845, industrialist Peter Cooper (who built the first American steam-powered locomotive, the Tom Thumb), obtained a patent (US Patent 4084) for powdered gelatin.
Forty years later the patent was sold to a LeRoy, New York-based carpenter and cough syrup manufacturer, Pearle B. Wait. He and his wife May added strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon flavoring to the powder and gave the product its present name in 1897.
Whether invented in LeRoy or LeRoy was merely the launching pad for one of America's most commercially successful food products, Jell-O has contributed much to life and fame for Genesee County.
Tim Rivers disagrees.
Maybe Jell-O is famous, cute and conjures warm fuzzies about childhood (especially when dolloped with whipped cream). But Jell-O hasn't had the same long-lasting local impact as the muckland in Elba and Byron.
The muck is listed No. 21 in things that made Genesee County famous. The 7,000 acres of muck stretches into Orleans County in Barre and Clarendon. The dark, highly organic soil brought hundreds of hard-working immigrants to the community in the 1920s and 1930s.
Unlike Jell-O, the muck is still here, still producing crops, still creating jobs, still unleashing human potential. There are 10 farms today working the muck and those farms continue as community cornerstons. Torrey, Bezon, Yunker, Halat, Starowitz, Vigneri, Mortellaro, Panek, Smith and Shuknecht remain, tilling the soil, planting seeds and harvesting crops.
Well, nothing like a little controversy to close out a months-long instructive and entertain journey through Genesee County history.
Though, Tom left out another key point: The local ball club ain't called the Jell-O Dogs!
If you've never visited the Jell-O Museum, it's worth the time. Here's the museum's Web site.
A few months ago, Philip produced this video: