Beautifully engraved unissued certificate from the Oscar Mayer & Company, Inc
. This historic document was printed by the American Banknote Company and has an
ornate border around it with a great vignette of a cow.
Oscar Mayer entered the business at the age of 14, when he came to the United States and answered a "Help Wanted" poster for an apprentice (or "butcher's boy") at George Weber's retail meat market in Detroit. This led to a stint with Kohlhammer's market in Chicago, and six years of employment with Armour & Co. in the Chicago Stockyards. Meanwhile, back in Nurnberg, Germany, his 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 neighborhood on Chicago's near north side. And from the very first day, it was a huge success.
The neighborhood gobbled up 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.
As for Oscar and Gottfried, their 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 came over from Germany to act as the company's bookkeeper. Gottfried oversaw the production end of things, and Oscar watched over the entire operation.
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 even 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 their own meats anonymously, 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 federally approved: when the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) was created to ensure the purity of products, the Mayers were among the first to volunteer, in 1906.
In 1909, another Mayer joined the company: Oscar's only son, Oscar G. Mayer. He came aboard right after graduating from Harvard with honors; and that same year, 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 farmer's co-op 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. 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.
What's so revolutionary about a yellow-banded wiener? Simple: it made OSCAR MAYER wieners recognizable at a time when most wieners were sold in bulk, without any packaging, from a display box. The yellow band was applied by hand, and bore the company name and U.S. government inspection stamp.
In 1936, Oscar Mayer & Co. introduced two company trademarks: Little Oscar and the WIENERMOBILETM. Little Oscar was a goodwill ambassador dressed as a chef who would drive his sausage-shaped WIENERMOBILE to store openings, children's hospitals, and other locations throughout the Chicago area -- and at each stop, he would sign autographs and give away samples of OSCAR MAYER® Wieners. Starting a decade later, he would also press a WIENERWHISTLE® into every waiting hand.
Today, the WIENERMOBILE and the WIENERWHISTLE continue to bring smiles to OSCAR MAYER fans everywhere.
The company was making one marketing breakthrough after another. First came its invention in 1944 of a machine that could wrap yellow OSCAR MAYER® 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 big 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 always included "The OSCAR MAYER Wiener Jingle," which (since 1963) became one of the longest-running commercial jingles still in use today. Its lyrics, as well as those of "The OSCAR MAYER Bologna Song" (from 1976), would be sung on countless playgrounds by generations of viewers.
While the company was making inroads in television, the big picture was changing dramatically 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 -- yet another Oscar, this time Oscar G. Mayer, Jr. -- was elected President.
By that time, Oscar Mayer & Co. was recording record sales figures, and was employing thousands of workers in four packing plants throughout the U.S.
So, where does a family company go from here? For the Mayer family, which owned OSCAR MAYER & Co. for nearly a century, the answer was to go public. In 1971, the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange - and eventually merged with Kraft Foods in 1989. In this way, OSCAR MAYER became a member of the largest food company in North America.
Today, OSCAR MAYER wieners, bologna, and bacon are recognized around the globe. And every package is a lasting tribute to Oscar F. Mayer.