Peter Cooper: Industrialist, Philanthropist, and...Inventor of Jell-O?
In addition to many other entrepreneurial pursuits, Peter Cooper owned a factory that produced glue and gelatin from animal by-products. Gelatin, the pure protein extracted from boiled animal bones, had been discovered over a century earlier, but its consumer appeal and applications were limited. Applying his unlimited curiosity and ingenuity to the humble product, Cooper discovered a method to produce powdered gelatin that could be packaged and sold for use by home cooks. He secured a patent for the manufacturing process for “portable gelatin” in 1845. The product was colorless and unflavored, but recipe books tucked into its packaging suggested adding fruit juice and sugar and using decorative copper molds to set it into attractive shapes. In 1895, Cooper sold the patent to cough syrup manufacturer Pearl Wait, whose wife May named the product “Jell-O.” It took some time to catch on, but in 1904 an aggressive marketing campaign under the slogan “America’s Favorite Dessert” started a Jell-O craze that changed home cooking for the first half of the 20th century.