Originally published August 20, 1984
Charles B. Knox, a salesman from Johnston, NY, watched his wife make a calf’s foot jelly and remembered hearing about a powdered gelatin which would make her job easier. Knox packaged the powder in easy to use form and, at his wife’s suggestion, had salesmen go from door to door to demonstrate how easily the gelatin sheets and powders could be dissolved in water to make aspics, molds and desserts.
Peter Cooper, the inventor of the “Tom Thumb” locomotive, had invented a mixture of powdered gelatin, sugar and artificial fruit flavors in the 1840’s, but it was not until Jell-o came along half a century later that people were ready for such a short-cut dessert, or that advertising and merchandising - and the icebox - existed to exploit their use. The growth of mechanical home refrigeration a few decades later elevated gelatin desserts into the staple category in American diets.