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What's in a Name?

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These names have probably all ended up in your shopping cart at some point, but how well do you know their origins? Let's take a look at the names behind some of our favorite groceries.

Kellogg's

Seventh-day Adventist brothers Will Keith and John Harvey Kellogg stumbled across a tasty process for flaking corn while working at Michigan's Battle Creek Sanitarium. The brothers were looking for a vegetarian diet that would work with the Seventh-day Adventist principles, and when they realized the cereal could be a healthy breakfast food, they took their development commercial in 1897.

In addition to being a major philanthropist, W.K. Kellogg also became a big deal in the Arabian horse industry. The ranch he opened in Pomona, CA gave rise to a number of famous horses, including the one Rudolf Valentino rode in the film Son of the Sheik.

Post Cereals

The rivalry between Post and Kellogg's on the cereal aisle is intense, but it's got nothing on their personal differences. Post Foods were the brainchild of Charles William Post, who had the idea for a line of cereal products...while eating the Kellogg brothers' creations at the Battle Creek Sanitarium! (As the story goes, W.K. Kellogg was famously secretive about the corn flaking process, but his brother John would let anyone hanging around the sanitarium watch.) Post founded Postum Cereal Co. in 1895, and in 1897 he introduced Grape Nuts.

Post was a bit of a character once he became wealthy. In 1907 he snapped up 200,000 acres of Texas ranchland to create a utopian community he called the Double U. The Double U had a gin and a textile mill, but it didn't allow drinking or brothels. Within seven years the town was ready to incorporate, at which point it changed its name to Post. Post, TX now has around 3,700 residents and is the county seat of Garza County.

Pepperidge Farm

In 1937 Margaret Rudkin had a problem. The youngest of her three sons had asthma and severe allergies, and whenever he ate commercially processed foods, he got sick. A doctor convinced Rudkin to feed the boy a diet that consisted mostly of fruits and vegetables, but she eventually decided to bake the tot some stone ground whole wheat bread. The first attempt at the bread wasn't great – she later joked, "My first loaf should have been sent to the Smithsonian Institution as a sample of Stone Age bread, for it was hard as a rock and about one inch high" – but Rudkin kept trying until she nailed the recipe.

Rudkin then convinced a local grocer to carry her bread at the then-exorbitant price of 25 cents a loaf, more than twice what normal bread cost. After some haggling, he finally agreed, and her baking found quite a following. Rudkin named her baking company Pepperidge Farm after the Fairfield, CT estate where she and her family lived. The farm itself was named after a giant old pepperidge tree that grew on the property.

Campbell's Soup

Andy Warhol's favorite canned good got its start when Joseph A. Campbell and Abraham Anderson founded the Joseph A. Campbell Preserve Company in 1869. The men sold condiments, soups, jellies, canned tomatoes, and other pantry staples. Things didn't really take off until MIT-educated chemist Dr. John T. Dorrance convinced Campbell's general manager – who also happened to be Dorrance's uncle – to hire him. Dorrance wanted to play with the chemical constitution of Campbell's products so badly that he took a meager $7.50 a week in salary and agreed to pay for his lab equipment out of his pocket.

Campbell's tiny investment in Dorrance paid off. In 1897, Dorrance hit on a way to revolutionize the soup industry by condensing half of the water out of the canned product. Less water meant that it was much lighter to ship the soup, a huge boost to the company's bottom line. The red-and-white color scheme came about the following year after executive Herberton Williams attended a Cornell-Penn State football game. Williams was so struck by the Cornell player's red-and-white jerseys that he suggested the company's soup cans use the same combination.

Tombstone Pizza

The creepy name has a funny story. Back in the early 1960s, brothers Joseph "Pep" and Ronald Simek ran a bar on the outskirts of Medford, WI. Since their tavern was across the street from a cemetery, they named the place the Tombstone Tap. Pep Simek supplemented the bar's dime-a-glass beer offerings with homemade pizzas, and his creations grew so popular that other local bars asked if Pep would whip up a batch of pizzas for them, too. Pep and Ron joined together with their wives to start making pizzas for other restaurants and bars, and they named their wares Tombstone in honor of their own tavern.

Quaker Oats

Here's a shocker: Quaker Oats wasn't founded by a Quaker! In 1877 mill owner Henry D. Seymour read an encyclopedia article on the Quakers and decided that the traits described in the article – integrity, honesty, and purity – were all good qualities for his fledgling company's oats to have. He trademarked the name for his Ravenna, OH mill's business, and in 1901 Quaker Mill Company merged with three other oat mills to form the Quaker Oats Company.

Claussen Pickles

The famously crunchy pickles actually arose from a bad situation. In 1870, farmer Hans Claus was stuck with a crop of cucumbers he couldn't seem to sell. Rather than let them go to waste, he pickled the unwanted stock and sold the cucumbers. Soon, his business took off, and he never had to waste another cucumber.

Hans Claus made his pickles the traditional way where the cucumbers went into brine and then underwent heat processing. Claussen's famous cold treatment for its pickles actually didn't come around until the 1960s when Claus' great-grandson Ed Claussen perfected a way to make refrigerated pickles that retained their crunch.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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