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13 Delicious Facts About Chef Boyardee

Everyone knows the mustachioed face emblazoned on cans of SpaghettiOs and Beefaroni. But what of the man himself? Here, we take a look at some things you might not know about the man, the brand, the legend: Chef Boyardee.

1. HIS NAME WAS HECTOR.

Actually, it was Ettore—Ettore Boiardi, an Italian immigrant from Piacenza who changed his first name shortly after coming to America.

2. AND HE WAS A RENOWNED CHEF.

In Italy, Hector started as a chef’s apprentice at age 11. In America, he took jobs in Greenbrier, West Virginia and New York City, and by age 17 had become a chef at New York’s Plaza Hotel alongside his brother, Mario (his other brother, Paul, was a waiter). Hector eventually became the Plaza’s head chef.

3. HE CATERED WOODROW WILSON’S WEDDING.

While working in West Virginia, Boiardi directed the catering for President Woodrow Wilson’s second marriage, to Edith Galt, in 1915.

4. HECTOR OPENED HIS OWN RESTAURANT IN CLEVELAND.

Boiardi began introducing Italian dishes into the predominantly French menu at the Plaza. Eager to take the concept further (which was a significant risk in the days before Olive Garden was in every city and Ragù sauce on every shelf), Boiardi opened Il Giardino d’Italia in Cleveland. The restaurant became an instant success, with lines frequently stretching down the block.

5. CHEF BOYARDEE WAS THE NATION’S LARGEST IMPORTER OF PARMESAN CHEESE AT THE TIME.

They also bought lots and lots of olive oil from Italy.

6. HIS SPAGHETTI SAUCE WAS SO POPULAR, HE STARTED SELLING IT IN MILK BOTTLES.

Customers also asked for his recipes, which he gave them along with serving tips.

7. HE STARTED CHEF BOY-AR-DEE WITH HIS BROTHERS IN 1928.

Boiardi brother Paul, who stayed on at the Plaza Hotel, served up Hector’s spaghetti to an enthusiastic diner named John Hartford, who happened to be the president of A&P supermarkets. Hartford encouraged the Boiardi brothers to go into manufacturing, and pretty soon Chef Boy-ar-dee (they hyphenated the name to help with pronunciation) was on shelves at A&P supermarkets across the country.

8. THEY MOVED TO PENNSYLVANIA SO THEY COULD GROW TOMATOES AND MUSHROOMS.

Hector wanted only fresh tomatoes and mushrooms in his pasta sauce. So he bought up land in Milton, Penn. and built the factory nearby. It’s still in operation today.

9. THE MILITARY COMMISSIONED HIM TO MAKE RATIONS FOR WW2 SOLDIERS.

An ad from 1943. clotho98 via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Boiardi closed his plant to civilian production and turned to making meals for the troops (which included his own son, Mario, who was a sharpshooter in the U.S. Army). He kept his plant open 24 hours a day, and would become the largest supplier of rations during the war.

10. AFTER THE WAR, THE BOIARDIS SOLD THE COMPANY.

Despite increased production and high demand, the company had a hard time keeping up financially. So Boyardee and his brothers sold to American Home Products in 1946 in order to keep everyone employed.

11. HE STILL APPEARED IN COMMERCIALS.

Boiardi served as a consultant for the company he started until 1978. He was also the public face of the brand, and appeared in commercials, like this one from 1953.

12. THERE’S A STATUE OF HIM IN OMAHA, NEBRASKA.

It’s located just outside the headquarters of ConAgra Foods, which now owns the brand. The statue, appropriately, was kept under wraps inside a giant can shortly before its unveiling—or uncanning—in 2011. There’s also a statue of the chef outside the company’s plant in Milton.

13. THERE’S ALSO A BOOK OF FAMILY RECIPES.

Boyardee’s grand-niece, Anna Boiardi, is also a chef and an author who published a collection of actual recipes and stories handed down through the family. And no, the ingredient list doesn’t include cans of Beefaroni.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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