The “57” in “57 Varieties of Heinz” Has No Real Meaning

Today I found out the “57” in “57 Varieties of Heinz” has no real meaning; it’s just a lucky number.

By 1892, H.J. Heinz Company had grown from a small company selling horseradish in clear glass jars, to having over 60 products.  Despite having more than 57 products, at the behest of the founder of H.J. Heinz Company, the business instituted their now famous “57 Varieties of Heinz” slogan.

Henry Heinz had come up with the slogan while riding on a train in New York City in 1892.  While on the train, he spotted a shoe store advertisement that was promoting their “21 styles of shoes”.  He thought his company should have a similar slogan, promoting the fact that they produced many different products.

Rather than go with the exact number of products they made at the time (which would continue to grow to the over 5,700 today), he instead chose “57”.  According to H.J. Heinz Company, he chose this number simply because he thought it was a lucky number and liked the sound of “57 Varieties of Heinz”.  It was also reasonably close to the number of products that they actually produced, so they went with it.

Henry Heinz got his start selling food products all the way back at the tender age of eight years old.  At the time, he helped his mother in her garden and would take the vegetables around his neighborhood, selling them door to door.  One year later, using a recipe his mother had taught him, he started making and selling his own horseradish sauce, which later would be the same sauce he would found his first major company selling.

His parents soon gave him around 3/4 of an acre to support his entrepreneurial endeavors and while just ten years old, he was now selling large quantities of vegetables and horseradish sauce around his neighborhood.  Two years later, he expanded his operation to nearly four acres and was even selling to local grocery stores.  He continued growing in this way and, at his peak before going to college, grossed around $2400 per year, which would be around $55,000 today.  Now all grown up, rather than continue expanding at this point, he instead chose to go to college and earned a degree in business.

Heinz’ first business that he founded after college actually went bankrupt after just six years in operation.  The company was called “Heinz Noble & Company”, co-founded by Heinz and L. Clarence Noble.  They started out selling more or less the same horseradish that he sold as a child.  Unfortunately for him, the “Great Depression” hit starting in 1873 with the “Panic of 1873” and continuing until 1879.

Of course, this “Great Depression” eventually got its named usurped a little under 60 years later and instead is now commonly known as the “Long Depression”.  The Long Depression ultimately affected much of Europe and the United States.  While there were many events that led up to the eventual trigger, that trigger in the U.S. ended up being the failure of the Jay Cooke & Company bank, which had overextended itself in putting way to much capital into the railroad bubble of the day.

After the Jay Cooke bank fell, other banks soon followed, as did over 89 of the nation’s 364 rail road companies.  This had the net effect of nearly 14% of the U.S.’s workforce being out of work (compared to about 7.3% today and as high as around 20%-23% during the Great Depression).  This all also saw real estate values plummet, further intensifying the problem. The New York stock market even had to be closed for over a week during this crisis (more on the Long Depression in the Bonus Factoids Below).  Amidst all this, Heinz Noble & Company soon found themselves overextended as the Long Depression continued on.  They ultimately went bankrupt in 1875.

After the business went belly-up, Heinz didn’t take long to rebound, founding the H.J. Heinz Company just a year later in the midst of the Long Depression.  His new company pretty much did the same exact thing his old bankrupted company did.  This one worked out a bit better than the first.  Fast-forward about 137 years and H. J. Heinz Company  grosses around $10 billion per year with around 5,700 products and close to 33,000 employees.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Heinz was known for his eccentric advertising campaigns, including: creating a six story high electrically lit (which was a big deal at the time) pickle in New York City at 23rd and 5th Avenue.  He later built a 70 foot tall pickle at the end of a pier in Atlantic City.  He even bought part of Lookout Mountain in Tennessee with the idea of having an enormous pickle carved into the mountain.  In this case, though, his attempt was thwarted due to public outrage at him potentially desecrating a spot which was, among other things, the site of a famous Civil War battle not too many years before.
  • The actual Heinz 57 sauce was originally named Beefsteak sauce and was first sold in 1911.  Two years after its creation, they renamed it Heinz 57 Beefsteak sauce.  Fast-forward 27 years and they decide to rename it again, this time to Heinz 57 sauce as it is today.  However, in between then and now, they once again decided to rename it in 1969 to Heinz 57 steak sauce.  In 1987, they decided to drop the “steak” and it has remained Heinz 57 Sauce since then.
  • Heinz’ ketchup was introduce the same year his new company was established, 1876.  At the time, fresh, ripe tomatoes were thought by many to be bad for your health and even poisonous (much like what happened when potatoes were first introduced in Europe: see The History of French Fries).  Ketchup, however, did not suffer as much from this stigma due to being processed with spices and vinegar.   However, because ripe tomatoes were still considered bad for you, often ketchups of the day were extremely watery from lack of pectin, due to the makers using unripe tomatoes.
  • Just 30 years after its launch, Heinz was selling over 12 million bottles of ketchup per year.  Today, Heinz sells over 650 million bottles of ketchup annually, along with 11 billion small packets of their ketchup.  These ketchup sales earn them a gross of $1.5 billion per year.
  • There is a more sinister theory proposed by some Illuminati enthusiasts as to the origin of the “57 Varieties of Heinz”. *puts on conspiracy theory cap*: Supposedly, Henry J. Heinz himself was a prominent member of the Illuminati.  As everyone knows, the Illuminati derive much of their power from the innate mystical energy embedded in the number 5.  Of course, they also like to flaunt their power in secret ways that only they’d recognize.  As you also are no doubt aware, 2+3 = 5.  Coincidence?!?!  I think not!  Two of course embodies perfect symmetry and three clearly implies divinity. Now, 2+3+2, of course equals 7.  7+3 is 10.  10 divided by 2 equals 5.  (10 * 3) + 2+ 3 = 35.  35 / 7 = 5.  35 + 2 = 37.  It’s all becoming clear now to you isn’t it?  No?  Well how about this, the corporate headquarters’ phone number was once 237-5757 *queue Twilight Zone music*.  Thus, it is once again proven that you can’t escape the Illuminati. Q.E.D.  *takes off conspiracy theory cap*
  • The first ketchup is thought to come from China in the late 17th century, though not made with tomatoes, but rather pickled fish and spices.  This sauce later became popular in Britain and a version of it, made with tomatoes, eventually was developed in the late 18th / early 19th century in the U.S.
  • One of the earliest known recipes for tomato ketchup appeared in 1801, created by Sandy Addison.  The recipe stated:
    • “Get the tomatoes quite ripe on a dry day, squeeze them with your hands till reduced to a pulp, then put half a pound of fine salt to one hundred tomatoes, and boil them for two hours.
    • Stir them to prevent burning.
    • While hot press them through a fine sieve, with a silver spoon till nought but the skin remains, then add a little mace, 3 nutmegs, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and pepper to taste.
    • Boil over a slow fire till quite thick, stir all the time.
    • Bottle when cold.  One hundred tomatoes will make four or five bottles and keep good for two or three years.”
  • Heinz recommends hitting the “57” on the neck of Heinz 57 ketchup to get it to poor faster.  They claim they actually put the 57 in that specific spot so you’ll know exactly where to hit.  In addition to that, the exact speed the ketchup should flow out of the bottle is 0.028 mph (.045 km/h), according to Heinz.   Heinz actually regulates this and if they find a batch of their ketchup flows such that the viscosity is greater than the speed, the batch is thrown out.
  • The reason ketchup flows so unevenly (one minute not at all, the next minute gobs coming out), is that it is a pseudoplastic aka “shear thinning substance”.  Tapping the “57” on the neck with two fingers will often do a better job than shaking because the ketchup’s resistance to flow (viscosity) decreases as the shear rate increases.  So by tapping it at the blockage point, you increase the shear rate, thereby, decreasing the viscosity, hence, it flows.  Shaking can have the same effect, but according to Heinz won’t typically work as well as the tapping the logo method.  Other substances which exhibit this same shear thinning effect include: lava; blood; nail polish; and whipped cream.  Today’s paints also are designed to take advantage of this, so that they can be easily rolled on, but once on the wall with the shearing force removed, they resist dripping.
  • As you’ve probably recently read, it has been proposed that pizza be considered a vegetable in the U.S. due to its tomato sauce content (obviously this was heavily lobbied by certain food companies that would benefit from their product being considered a vegetable).  In 1982, a similar type proposal also almost saw making ketchup count as a vegetable. Ronald Reagan proposed to cut $1 billion from school lunch programs, while still maintaining the necessary nutritional elements of the school meals.  In true political fashion, rather than actually solving the nutritional problem, it was suggested that they simply reclassify ketchup and relish as vegetables.  This way, on paper, it would look like they were serving a vegetable and so they could cut out serving a real vegetable, without actually having to add any nutritional item that the schools didn’t already serve.  Needless to say, this didn’t go over too well and the idea was eventually thrown out.
  • The school lunches cut proposal also didn’t fare well in the minds of the public because, on the same day cuts were proposed by Reagan, he had the White House curators buy over $200,000  (about $450,000 today) worth of new china embossed with gold.
  • Ketchup is actually graded into three categories: Fancy, Extra Standard, and Standard.  In order to receive the classification of “Fancy” ketchup, it must have a specific gravity of at least 1.15 and a total amount of solids equaling at or above 33%.  What this means in layman’s terms is the thicker the ketchup (more tomato solids), the higher the quality rating is.
  • Despite his first company going bankrupt and Heinz not being obligated to pay many of the debts the company held, he voluntarily chose to do so anyways, as he felt morally obligated, though this took some time.
  • The Long Depression started innocently enough when Germany decided to get rid of silver as the backing material for their money in 1871.  This decreased the value of silver and particularly hurt certain U.S. businesses who mined a significant amount of the world’s silver.  The U.S. then decided to follow suit and stop backing its money with gold and silver and decided to just go with gold (as a part of the Coinage Act of 1873).  This even more drastically killed the price of silver and subsequently raised interest rates significantly.  Businesses and farmers, who typically kept a fair amount of debt at times, were caught off guard by this sudden shift and rise of interest rates.   Investors then got in on the panic and stopped wanting to invest in endeavors that would tie up funds for long periods of time, preferring to keep a lot of money on hand.  Today, the housing bubble contributed to our “little depression”; back then it was a giant railroading bubble that burst around this same time.  This had a drastic effect on the nation because railroad companies of the day were (combined) the second largest employer in the U.S. after agriculture.  Finally, one of the larger banks in the country, Jay Cooke & Company, went under in 1873 largely due to being too heavily invested in railroads and it was all downhill from there with bank after bank suffering the same fate as Jay Cooke & Company.  This first “Great Depression” also hit most of Europe just as hard as the U.S.
  • As part of the railroad boom, over 56,000 miles of new track were laid in a short 7 year span from 1866-1873 when the bubble burst.
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  • Typo in Bonus Fact #8: “to get it to poor faster” should be “to get it to pour faster”

  • They re-celebrated the Heinz logo in 1957, hence the 57 varieties!

  • Typo in Bonus Fact #1: “the sight of a famous Civil War battle ” should be “the site of a famous Civil War battle “

  • A guy I knew who was highly credible (unfortunately now deceased) told me an interesting story about the Heinz 57 sauce which came out in 1969. He was a young man working in a restaurant’s kitchen with a chef who had invented a steak sauce in a recipe known only to that chef. The steak sauce was well-liked and the chef was approached by a representative of Heinz. They agreed on a price and the chef disclosed the secret ingredients to the Heinz employee and agreed never to disclose them to anyone else. The restaurant was located in Westchester County New York. As I stated in the beginning, the guy who told me this told me this story was an honest individual who didn’t fabricate stories.