February 7, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
James Kraft

For the consumer in the early 1900s buying a wheel of cheese was as risky as a spin of the roulette wheel. Quality and flavor varied from cheese to cheese. Big wheels dried rapidly and shrank noticeably. Shelf life was measured in hours, not weeks. There were no brand names nor advertising to guide the buyer. All in all the average American bought less than a pound of cheese a year.

One of eleven children born into a Mennonite family, J.L. Kraft developed a life-long love of cheese working behind the counter at Ferguson's store in Ft. Erie, Ontario. In the summer of 1903 the 29-year old Kraft set out for Chicago with $65 and an unshakable desire to start a cheese business. The $65 paid for one month's lodging and breakfast rolls, rental of a horse named Paddy, a wagon for Paddy to pull and a small stock of cheese to be sold to Chicago grocers. Paddy and his wagon would grow to be a Kraft Company trademark.

A popular early Kraft item was a variety of club cheese and his profits soon moved him into larger quarters. He asked his four brothers to join the business and the young company became J.L. Kraft & Brothers in 1907. Kraft expanded his business into the vibrant cheese markets of New York and began importing popular European cheeses.

All the while he toiled over his double boiler and old copper kettle searching for the elusive process that would enable him to package the highly perishable commodity. After years of failure he finally perfected a method of blending and pasteurizing natural cheese that could be packaged in tins and stamped with the Kraft name. For the first time the consumer could expect high quality and uniformity when buying cheese in convenient packages.

In 1921 Kraft introduced his famous 5-pound loaf of pasteurized, blended cheese - cheese without rind or waste and carrying the name and guarantee of its maker. National per capita consumption of cheese soon increased by half. To meet demand Kraft persuaded farmers in regions outside the traditional milk-producing regions of Wisconsin and New York to expand their herds for his cheese factories.

Kraft & Brothers became the Kraft Cheese Company in 1924 and expanded the line to include Velveeta, a cheese food with milk sugar and minerals incorporated to form a nourishing "family" cheese food. Kraft merged with the Phenix Cheese Company and began marketing Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, a spread first made in New York in 1882 but named Philadelphia because it was considered the home of quality foods at the time. Destined to become the largest selling package cheese in the world, Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese was never manufactured there.

J.L. Kraft purchased several salad dressing companies as it diversification continued. Finally in 1930 Kraft and his company were absorbed into the National Dairy Products Corporation. Kraft, now in his fifties, was absorbed with other pursuits. Prior to his death in 1953 Popular Mechanics called him “America’s #1 rockhound.” Among other achievements James Kraft was credited with discovering American jade.

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