February 7, 2007

Oscar Mayer

And the man behind the brand is...
Oscar Mayer

Sausage was a popular table food in America in the late 1800s, served up by thousands of German wurstmachers cooking up old family recipes in corner butcher shops. But Oscar F. Mayer, who was to become the most famous of the sausage-makers, descended from a family of ministers and foresters.

Mayer came to America in 1873 at the age of 14. He joined family members in Detroit where he immediately went to work in a meat shop. The family moved on to Chicago and Mayer found work in Kohlhammer's Meat Market. In 1883 the 24-year old Mayer opened his own small butcher shop on Chicago's North Side.

Pork was selling for 8¢-12¢ a pound and first day sales were $59. From the beginning Mayer placed an emphasis on quality above all else and soon his salesmen could be seen carrying large orders in wicker baskets out of the neighborhood. The business grew rapidly to meet the lively demand for quality Oscar Mayer meats. The business was so successful that the former owner of the shop refused to renew Mayer's lease after five years, saying he wanted to make some money himself.

Mayer bought property and moved the business into a new two-story building. At the turn of the century Oscar Mayer & Company ledgers listed 43 employees, included among them "five wagon salesmen, one pig-head and feet cleaner and cooker, and two stablemen to take care of the delivery horses."

In 1929 Oscar Mayer became the first to break the traditional anonymity of meat producers by branding its weiners with a yellow paper ring. It guaranteed that Oscar Mayer wieners could be distinguished from others in the grocer's case. This brand identification paved the way for consumer advertising - an unheard of concept for meat products. The "Oscar Mayer Wiener Song" eventually became so famous it was performed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.

Mayer remained active until his death at 95. His obsession for quality had steered his company away from the herd of local butchers in the 19th century to the forefront of national processing in the 20th.

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