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The Oscar Mayer history

The Early Years

Oscar F. Mayer entered the meat business at the age of 14, when he came to the United States from Bavaria, and answered a "Help Wanted" poster for an apprentice at George Weber's retail meat market in Detroit. This apprenticeship led to a job with Kohlhammer's market in Chicago, and six years of employment with Armour & Co. in the Chicago Stockyards. Meanwhile, back in Nurnberg, Germany, Oscar’s brother Gottfried established himself as a "wurstmacher," or sausage-maker and ham-curer.

Soon, the two were pooling their talents. In 1883, Oscar and the newly-immigrated Gottfried Mayer leased the Kolling Meat Market, a small retail store in a German neighbourhood on Chicago's near north side. From the beginning, it was a huge success with first-day sales totalling $59.

The neighbourhood responded positively, demanding pound after pound of the Mayers' house specialties, which included bockwurst, liverwurst, and weiswurst (a mixture of pork, veal, eggs, and spices). Their market became so successful, in fact, that in 1888 the landlord refused to renew the Mayers' lease, so that he could take over the business himself. Not surprisingly, their former landlord knew more about leases than liverwurst; with the Mayers' gone, the meat market was out of business within a year.

Meanwhile Oscar and Gottfried’s success continued to grow. They built their own two-story establishment just two blocks away from their previous storefront. The two brothers lived in apartments over the store along with a third Mayer brother, Max, who immigrated from Germany to act as the company's bookkeeper. Gottfried oversaw production, while Oscar managed the entire operation.

Marketing and Branding Trailblazers
By 1895, the new market was flourishing. Certainly, the excellent products had something to do with that. But part of the success may also be claimed by the publicity efforts of Oscar (or Oscar F. Mayer, as he would later be known). To boost goodwill for the enterprise, he had the company sponsor German polka bands in the Chicago area. During the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, he sponsored the event's German exhibit.
Business had become so good that instead of hand-carrying large orders to customers' homes in the neighborhood, as most meat markets customarily did, the Mayers made their deliveries by horse-drawn wagons to all of Chicago and its suburbs. Including the wagon-driving meat salesmen and stable hands, the company workforce totaled 43 people by 1900.

As the fame of their products grew, the Mayers feared that other meat packers might try to capitalize on their popularity. So in 1904, when some of the largest packing houses were still selling unbranded meat, the Mayers took the bold step of affixing a brand name to their products.

Besides having one of the first recognized meat brands, the Mayers also had one of the first that was government approved. In 1906, when the federal meat inspection program was created to ensure the purity of products, the Mayers were among the first to volunteer.
Innovations in Promotions and Packaging
In 1909, another Mayer joined the company, Oscar's only son Oscar G. Mayer. He instituted changes that quickly doubled business volume. Not long afterward, the company formally incorporated as "Oscar F. Mayer & Brother," a privately-held corporation, with Oscar F. Mayer as President. The newly formed corporation was aggressive in its promotion and growth.In 1917, it expanded its Chicago facility and sponsored its very first Oscar Mayer newspaper ads. These ads unveiled the new company trademark APPROVED BRANDS.
Expansion continued in 1919 with the purchase of a small farmers’ cooperative meat packing plant in Madison, Wisconsin, which would become an important source of raw material for the company's processed meats. That same year, the company changed its name to "OSCAR MAYER & Co."

Step by step, the company was setting itself apart not just by quality or size, but by packaging as well. In 1924, it introduced packaged sliced bacon, for which it received a U.S. patent. And in 1929, a year after Oscar F. Mayer was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors and his son, Oscar G. Mayer, named company President, OSCAR MAYER & Co. began wrapping its wieners with a yellow paper band, bearing the OSCAR MAYER® name.
From a marketing perspective the yellow band was revolutionary. It was applied by hand to every fourth wiener off the production line, and bore the company name and U.S. government inspection stamp. It made OSCAR MAYER® wieners recognizable at a time when most wieners were sold in bulk, without any packaging, from a display box.
National Trademarks Take Off
In 1936, Oscar Mayer & Co. introduced the WIENERMOBILE™ vehicle, which has become an American icon. The vehicle was used to chauffeur the company spokesperson to store openings, children's hospitals, and other locations throughout the Chicago area, distributing good will and WIENERWHISTLE™ toys to the public. Today, the WIENERMOBILE and the WIENERWHISTLE continue to bring smiles to OSCAR MAYER® fans everywhere.

In the meantime, the company was making one marketing breakthrough after another. First came its invention in 1944 of a machine that could wrap OSCAR MAYER® yellow bands around wieners automatically, eliminating hours of tedious hand-wrapping. This invention was heralded in the Chicago Tribune with another "first" -- the first full-color newspaper ad ever created by a U.S. meat firm.
Then came television. In 1950, Oscar Mayer sponsored its first show, a local Philadelphia broadcast, followed by a string of children's shows and daytime dramas. The move to primetime occurred in 1968 with "Gentle Ben," and carried through such classics as "The Carol Burnett Show," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Here's Lucy," and "The Wonderful World of Disney."
As part of its primetime sponsorship, the company included the Oscar Mayer Wiener Jingle. Developed in 1963, the song became one of the longest-running commercial jingles, and is still in use today. Its lyrics, as well as those of The Bologna Song© introduced in 1974, have been sung on countless playgrounds by generations of viewers.
Corporate Relocation and Growth
While the company was making advertising milestones, the corporation was evolving back home. Headquarters moved from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin in 1955, following the death of Oscar F. Mayer at the age of 95. Oscar G. Mayer was elected to replace him as Chairman of the Board, and his son, Oscar G. Mayer, Jr., was elected President. By then, Oscar Mayer & Co. was recording record sales, and was employing thousands of workers in packing plants throughout the United States.

After nearly a century of family ownership, the Oscar Mayer & Co. went public in 1971. The company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and was acquired by the General Foods Corporation in 1981. Through the merger with Kraft Foods, Inc. in 1989, Oscar Mayer became a member of the largest food company in North America.

Today, OSCAR MAYER® BACON, WIENERS & BOLOGNA are recognized around the globe, and every package is a lasting tribute to Oscar F. Mayer.

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Tim Powell The International Food Products Group Ltd. 4 Dorlcote Road, London SW18 3RT UK