Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Condiment magnate H.J. Heinz built his mansion in Homewood from the profits derived from his 57 Varieties.
A captain of industry in the early 20th century, Henry John Heinz established the H. J. Heinz Company, famous for its ketchup. Born in October, 1844, he cultivated his business from a horseradish bottling operation to a multi-national corporation by his death in May 1919. Building factories in his hometown of Pittsburgh and across the world, Heinz was renowned for his sharp business sense and excellent treatment of his employees.
H. J. Heinz was the first child of eight born to Frederick Heinz and Margaretta Schmit, two German immigrants who settled in the Birmingham section of Pittsburgh in 1943. When Henry was five, Frederick moved his family to the village of Sharpsburg, into the home that would later house his son’s first efforts in manufacturing. In the meantime, he attended school in Etna, taught by the pastor of the local Lutheran church. His parents wished Henry to become a preacher, and went so far as to enroll him in the Allegheny Seminary when he was 14, but his inclination towards business was clear—from an early age he had sold excess produce from his mother’s garden, and by that time, he was supplying vegetables and fruits to local grocers. Instead of pursuing the ministry, Henry took several classes on bookkeeping at Duff’s Business College in Pittsburgh and worked at his father’s brick-making business. He grated and bottled horseradish on the side, his first venture independent of the family. At 21, Heinz used his savings to purchase interest in the brick company, but later decided to focus on horseradish. In 1869, the same year his horseradish venture began in earnest, Henry married Sarah Sloan Young, a first-generation daughter of Irish immigrants. They lived together for 25 years until Sarah’s short bout with pneumonia led to her death in 1894. The couple had five children, and two of the sons later joined the Heinz Company as officers: Irene, Clarence, Howard, and Clifford, with the fourth child Robert dying less than a month after his birth. The horseradish-bottling manufacture was expanded to Heinz, Noble and Company, after the births of the first two Heinz children. They added celery sauce and pickles to its list of products, and the company grew and established warehouses in St. Louis and Chicago. However, the profitable venture ended in bankruptcy in 1877 when the harvest he had agreed to pay for cost more than the preserves he was selling. Heinz was forced into debt as he kept up payment after payment, draining his resources to pay suppliers and employees. Despite the collapse of his business, he was able to start a new company with the financial support of his wife, brother, and cousin, Frederick. F. and J. Heinz, as it was called, was to become the H. J. Heinz Company in 1888. Seventeen years later, in 1905, the structure of the Company was converted to that of a corporation, with Henry John Heinz taking office as president. The factory compound was located at the North Shore in Pittsburgh, which is distinguished today by its perpetually emptying ketchup bottle, was begun in 1890 and finished in 1898. Heinz was called one of the “Lords of Pittsburgh” along with Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie by Edith Wharton in her autobiography, and he was able to build himself a mansion in Homewood called Greenlawn. Despite his great success and large fortune, Heinz did not forget his employees. The factories he ran were paternalistic institutions, with Heinz treating workers as he expected to be treated. In his far-reaching attempts to care for his employees, he provided them with a company doctor, nurse, dentist, and even manicurist free of charge. To keep food handling as sanitary as possible, women were supplied with uniforms, and the factory was equipped with changing rooms and showers. The well-being of workers was also provided for with a swimming pool, gymnasium, rooftop garden, free sewing and cooking classes, and an auditorium for social gatherings. Heinz’s humane morality extended beyond treatment of employees; he was also a staunch activist and supporter of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. After his death on May 14, 1919, his dedication to the welfare of others was commemorated with a bronze statue in his likeness, funded entirely by his employees. In his lifetime, Henry J. Heinz established an impressive moral and fiscal legacy, leaving an imprint on his hometown of Pittsburgh and the nation at large. Because of his adherence to high standards of quality and his activism in food preparation hygiene, he promoted the current level of cleanliness and sanitation in today’s food manufacturing industry. Today, the H. J. Heinz Company is a global competitor in the processed foods market, selling brands like Weight Watchers, Ore-Ida, and 9-Lives. The slogan he dreamed up while looking advertisements on the train, 57 Varieties, is easily recognized across the Unites States. Heinz Chapel, a non-denominational church on the University of Pittsburgh grounds, was funded by Henry as a memorial to his mother. The Heinz family has sponsored numerous building projects, such as Heinz Hall, throughout Pittsburgh, and has donated money to both Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh Universities.
Alberts, Robert C. The Good Provider: H. J. Heinz and His 57 Varieties.Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973.
Dienstag, Eleanor Foa. In Good Company: 125 Years at the Heinz Table (1864-1994). New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1994.