February 7, 2007

Van Camp's

And the man behind the brand is...
Frank Van Camp

There were many small family canneries serving America in the 19th century. But for a dropped tomato Gilbert Van Camp’s Indianapolis cannery would have carried on in anonymity just like hundreds of others.

The Van Camps from Holland settled in New Jersey in the 1600s. Gilbert Van Camp was born in Brookville, Indiana in 1817. He went to work in a flour mill at the age of 17, saving money for four years until he was able to buy into a small store selling stoves and tinware. Van Camp pounded out most of the tin himself.

By 1842 Van Camp tired of the pounding and returned to milling. He remained a miller until 1860 when he moved to Indianapolis to manage the grocery of Fletcher, Williams & Van Camp. Here he crafted a warehouse with walls three feet thick with two walls of iron insulated by cut straw. It was the first known satisfactory experiment with cold storage and a design later adopted for refrigerator cars.

With his unique storage space Van Camp directed the business into canning of fruits and vegetables for winter consumption. Van Camp built his cannery business steadily through the latter half of the 1800s until a fire damaged a warehouse in 1890. All the family’s attention was diverted to rebuilding the warehouse. One day Gilbert’s son Frank paused for a lunch of pork and beans and accidentally mixed a tomato into his meal. He thought about the unusual mixture and left to bake the beans and tomatoes together.

The result was so tasty the Van Camps began canning their new taste sensation and national advertising made it a success. Heretofore baked beans had been baked mostly in molasses but by the time Gilbert Van Camp died in 1900 at the age of 83 everybody was baking their beans in tomato sauce. But more than 100 years after Frank Van Camp absentmindedly introduced the tomato to the baked bean Van Camp’s remains America’s top selling pork and beans.

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