Who Was Oscar Mayer and Why Do You Know His Name?
You pass them in the grocery store. You’ve seen photos of the Wienermobile. But you might be wondering why Oscar Mayer continues to be one of the most recognizable brands in America. Was it a brilliant marketing ploy that got the nation’s attention all those years ago, or is this company’s success tied to something more elusive? Learn the story of Oscar Mayer and how his business has influenced the food industry for over a century.
The Immigrant with a Dream
Before the legend, Oscar Mayer was a real person. As a German immigrant, Mayer came to America in the late 1880s with his brother Gottfried. Together, they opened a meat market on the north side of Chicago, selling classic German dishes including bratwurst, liverwurst, and weißwurst. With plenty of German settlers in the neighborhood, the Mayers’ meat business quickly turned into a smashing success. Soon after they captured the attention of the neighborhood, the Mayers decided to take their product to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, introducing their cured meats to a whole new audience. Not long after, Oscar Mayer began delivering his products throughout the entire city of Chicago.
Meat Inspection and the Dawn of Regulation
The early 1900s wasn’t known as a particularly sanitary period in the American food industry. In 1906, the U.S. government decided to start inspecting foods that were sold to the public. Feeling confident in the quality of his meats, Oscar Mayer volunteered to be one of the first companies to undergo inspection. They passed with flying colors and a stamp of approval from the government only helped to fuel the fire that was Oscar Mayer.
The Power of Branding
Oscar Mayer gets credit for a lot of firsts. The company was one of the first in the food industry to start branding its products to consumers. As the name Oscar Mayer continued to grow over the next few decades, the company started investing a fortune in advertising. One ad in particular during the mid 1960s featured a mousy young girl singing the Oscar Mayer Wiener Song. “If I were an Oscar Mayer wiener…”
In 1974, the company released another ad featuring a charming young person. Four-year-old Andy Lambros started singing about his baloney sandwich. “My bologna has a first name; it’s O.S.C.A.R.” Sound familiar? That’s probably because that clever bit turned into one of the most successful and longest running television commercials in history.
Merging with History
Oscar Mayer has preserved itself by changing hands a number of times over the last few decades. It wasn’t until 1981 that the company’s shareholders decided to sell to General Foods, one of the largest food distribution companies in the world at the time. In 1985, the business conglomerate Philip Morris acquired General Foods and merged it with the up and coming Kraft Foods. To this day, Kraft continues to be synonymous with the Mayer name.