February 7, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Edmund McIlhenny

Edmund McIlhenny’s world was being torn apart. A self-made banker of Scotch-Irish descent, approaching Union troops forced him to flee New Orleans in 1862 for the safety of his wife’s ancestral home on Avery Island in the Louisiana bayou country.

The McIlhenny’s refuge was short-lived. The family island yielded minable rock salt - the nation’s first salt mine is there - and salt was needed to preserve meat for feeding troops. The Union invaded Avery Island in 1863. The Averys and McIllhennys fled to south Texas for the duration of the War.

When they returned their house was plundered, their plantation in tatters. About the only thing that seemed to survive the Yankee occupation was a patch of hearty Capsicum peppers that thrived in a kitchen garden. No one knew exactly how the peppers got there but Edmund McIlhenny knew what he wanted to do with them.

He chopped the peppers and blended them with vinegar and Avery Island salt. The fiery potion was left to age in wooden barrels. When ready McIlhenny portioned off the resulting sauce into discarded cologne bottles. Local opinion was unanimous: the former banker’s pepper sauce was extraordinary.

In what must be one of the most eclectic of all product christenings, McIllhenny called his sauce “Tabasco” after the name of a river is southern Mexico. He had heard the name and liked it. Tabasco sauce was an immediate hit. His initial shipment of 350 bottles in 1868 sold swiftly and the next year he sold many thousands of bottles for one dollar apiece. Within three years McIllhenny opened an office in London to service European tastes for his spicy sauce.

For the next twenty years until his death in 1890 Edmund McIllhenny sold as much pepper sauce as he could make. Today, the company started by a former banker whose life was turned inside out, sells fifty million tiny bottles of Tabasco sauce in America alone.

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