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Will Following Advice From a 1988 Book On Fads Make Me a Millionaire?

What would you do with a million dollars? This was a common thought experiment growing up, a question posed to conjure up childish dreams of sports cars, private islands, and jet packs. In retrospect, it’s all completely ridiculous…or, at least it was completely ridiculous until I found the book that will change my life forever.

Does anyone know a good jet pack dealership? I’m about to make a million dollars:

My wagon is hitched!

How to Create Your Own Fad and Make a Million Dollars was written in 1988 by Ken Hakuta (a.k.a. Dr. Fad) and it is no longer in print. I can’t prove it, but my theory is the Federal Reserve had the book banned because they feared it would create too many millionaires and the country would run out of money.

Ken Hakuta, for the uninitiated, is the man behind Wacky Wallwalkers, a fad that made him a millionaire (so he knows what he's talking about):

Astonishingly, I was able to acquire How to Create Your Own Fad and Make a Million Dollars for only $4.95, meaning I can expect a 21000000 percent return on my investment (or, “ROI” as we call it in the biz).

On my quest to make a million dollars, I aim to follow Hakuta’s book as closely as possible. Like a good fad, good advice is timeless.

DR. FAD WILL GUIDE ME.

The book’s cover calls Hakuta the “creator of the Wacky Wallwalker,” though that distinction is technically false. In the short biographical chapter that opens HTCYOFAMAMD (the easy-to-remember acronym that will be used for How to Create Your Own Fad and Make a Million Dollars from this point forth), Hakuta makes it clear that he didn’t come up with the toy himself.

In 1982, Hakuta’s parents sent his children a care package from Tokyo that contained in its contents a little rubber eight-legged toy called a Taco (a take on "tako," Japanese for "octopus"). When thrown against a wall, the Taco would suction to it and then jankily walk down as if of its own volition. Already a relatively successful importer-exporter (he imported karate uniforms from Korea and exported Teflon ironing board covers to Japan), Hakuta knew the toy had potential. He contacted the manufacturer and offered to buy 300,000 Tacos for $120,000 and the worldwide rights to the toy. He re-branded the toy as a “Wacky Wallwalker,” and the rest is history.

By 1988, Wacky Wallwalker had made around $20 million in profits. Hakuta parlayed this success to promote his new persona, invention guru Dr. Fad. He even had his own children’s TV show:

In HTCYOFAMAMD, Dr. Fad writes, “Contrary to what most people believe, fads are made, not born. It’s true you have to have that captivating product, but what happens after that is cold, hard strategy.”

Thankfully, that cold, hard strategy fills the pages of Dr. Fad’s valuable book. “You are operating alone,” he writes, “like Willy Loman with his shoeshine and his smile, bucking the odds.” If Death of a Salesman teaches us anything, it’s that hard work always guarantees a happy ending. Watch out, Mr. Loman, there's a new business success story in town!

WAIT, WHAT IS A FAD?

Unfortunately, Dr. Fad's book doesn’t supply a list of lucrative, unclaimed fads that are free for the taking, so I am forced to come up with my own. He does, however, include some valuable rules as to what does and doesn't constitute a fad.

“A true fad has little utility beyond its entertainment value. Think of the Mood Ring, the Pet Rock, the Slinky, Silly Putty.”

The inherent pointlessness of a fad is what makes it so much fun. Years ago, the goofy and frivolous toys mentioned above scratched a certain consumer itch. However, in 2015, memes and other online jokes have filled that niche. Behind their silly facades, both toy fads and memes also provide serious cultural currency (“I get the Pet Rock, I’m in on the joke”...“I get doge, I’m in on the joke”).

The big difference between these two types of fads is that one costs money and the other is free and won’t make me a million dollars. The Internet has become the ultimate fad-manufacturer and, unfortunately for me, there is nothing in this book written in 1988 about how to master it. Or is there…

“To sweep the country, forget being innovative about existing things and think original…Avoid high-tech, high-gloss.”

Dr. Fad, you genius. What would be more original in 2015 than a fad that exists outside the Internet? Sure, today’s biggest fads have at least some Internet component (e.g. selfie sticks that are used to take photos for online sharing; self-balancing electric scooters made popular by vaping Vine stars), but to break free from that mold, I must return to fad culture’s simple roots.

“Natural phenomena are not fads, so pass on any schemes to capitalize on such events as Halley's Comet.”

Good to remember for the year 2061.

“Whatever you do, don't sink your life's savings into cliché items. I walk into souvenir and gift shops all the time and feel sorry for the guy who thought up the item that consists of a 'stick in the mud.'"

Okay, this advice disqualifies pretty much everything I have come up with so far:

— “Block Headz (Yoga blocks with googly eyes.)
— “Couch Potatoez” (Potatoes with googly eyes on tiny couches, though potato-sized sofas are prohibitively expensive to manufacture.)
— “Mouse Padz” (Mouse-shaped undergarment-liners for people with overactive bladders.)
— “Urinal Cakez” (Urinal-shaped cakes...not sure how that one got through early brainstorming sessions.)
— “Stick in The Mud” (Oops.)

Back to the drawing board.

While this should be a simple two-step process (1. Create your own fad. 2. Make a million dollars), step one has proven itself to be much more difficult than I had imagined it would be.

Inventing a fad is so hard, even Dr. Fad couldn’t do it. Following his lead, I searched for a Japanese toy I could buy the rights to and market in America. Knowing I’d have to purchase the toys in bulk, I went to Alibaba.com. Alibaba connects consumers with manufacturers and is the largest e-commerce company in the world, so if anyone has my Wacky Wallwalker, it's them.

Unfortunately, my search for “Japanese toy” led me astray:

Images censored // via Alibaba.com

I figured my fad-making days were prematurely cooked—that is, until inspiration struck. And like all true Eureka moments, it came when I least expected it, when I was in Staples buying a reception-area-sized tub of Red Vines. There, amongst the hodgepodge inventory of office supplies, lived my million dollar idea.

Like a bolt from Zeus it struck me: STUPID STRAWZ.

THAT’S RIGHT, STUPID STRAWZ.

To you, the above may look like standard binding combs for self-publishing documents. But to the refined eye of someone who has studied HTCYOFAMAMD, those inexpensive plastic strips are the world’s next great fad: STUPID STRAWZ.

STUPID STRAWZ are like normal straws, except they don’t fit in most drinks and they don’t provide any suction.

STUPID STRAWZ have all the makings of a perfect fad:

— They're useless.
— They're cheap.
— They're not high-tech.

I also followed Dr. Fad's tenets for naming a fad:

“In this age of instant gratification and USA Today factoids, you have about 20 seconds to get your point across. A name that quickly and clearly sums up what a product is fits into the split-second attention-span of the buying public.”

You know it, my man.

“A catchy name conveys information, amusement, and curiosity all at the same time.”

Check, check, and check.

“Something repetitive helps.”

STUPID STRAWZ has Wacky Wallwalker-level alliteration—that's a market-proven literary device.

GETTING THE STUPID STRAWZ BRAND OUT THERE.

Advertising is expensive, and Dr. Fad argues against using it in the early stages of your fad. “A single 30-second spot on Miami Vice will set you back $250,000,” he writes. Considering most fad-makers are delightful amateurs like myself, that kind of scratch is clearly out of the question.

Instead, Dr. Fad advises, you should make the press do your ad work for you. “A news story has tremendous impact on buyers,” he says, and he should know. Hakuta focused on selling his toy to small shops near the Washington Post’s offices. On December 24, 1982, just two and a half months after Hakuta first laid eyes on that Japanese Taco toy, the Post’s style section featured a story on the Wacky Wallwalker. “Newspaper articles multiply like rabbits," he writes, and that story helped make the toy a bona fide super-fad. 

Soon after the Post story ran, Dr. Fad appeared on the CBS Evening News to talk about Wacky Wallwalker. “I’ll take a dozen,” Dan Rather said at the end of the segment, further boosting the toy's national profile.

Luckily, I already have a publication writing about STUPID STRAWZ—this one. Please feel free to take this reputable website’s lead and write about STUPID STRAWZ. If you are a writer who is looking for a pull quote to use when aggregating this, please use this one:

STUPID STRAWZ are amazing and should be on every kid’s holiday wish list. If Dan Rather knew about STUPID STRAWZ, he’d likely say, “I’ll take a dozen.”

Even though it's early in the game for STUPID STRAWZ , I decided to make a commercial anyway. This link will take you to a full Miami Vice episode on YouTube (season 2's "Out Where the Buses Don't Run"—it's a good one). Please pause it at appropriate times and then play this Vine:

Thanks, you just saved me $250,000.

THE LEGALITY OF STUPID STRAWZ.

Seeing as my fad already has incredible press attention, I need to make sure all my ducks are in a row when it comes to matters of copyright, trademarks, and patents.

A visit to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s web site reveals that the name “STUPID STRAWZ” is not yet trademarked. According to the Wall Street Journal, online trademark registration costs between $275 and $325, which, I mean, come on. To get around this, I have left the registration form open on my browser, which means the STUPID STRAWZ trademark is pending. So back off.

As for the legality of taking an existing product (like a Staples 1/2 inch binding comb), giving it a new name (and a great name: “STUPID STRAWZ”), and then reselling it at a higher cost? Here is where I may run into some problems. According to Justin Jacobson, a copyright lawyer at the Jacobson firm, that act would “constitute palming off and result in unfair competition claims.” So, for right now, all STUPID STRAWZ are not-for-sale prototypes.
 
I need to find a manufacturer with whom I can work directly and who will make STUPID STRAWZ to my own unique specifications (i.e. 11/20 inch binding combs). In order to do this, I have to get my hands on some sweet sweet moolah.

FUNDING STUPID STRAWZ

“I wouldn’t finance a fad if I were a banker,” Dr. Fad writes, though he almost was a banker. In HTCYOFAMAMD's intro chapter, Hakuta says he turned down a job at Goldman Sachs before starting his import-export business. That fact is worth keeping in mind when he lays out his financial advice, as it contains a Goldman Sachs-level understanding of consequence:

“[A] way to raise finances is to use as many credit cards as you can to stretch a line of credit. Go to 10 different banks and apply for MasterCard and Visa. Then get $500 on each of your 20 credit cards. Everybody will give you that. You don’t want to draw down on them one at a time because they will all find out. You draw down on all of them on the same day. Then you have $10,000…If you have a hot fad, you worry about paying it back later. That’s tomorrow’s problem.”

Uhh, I don’t know if that's a good idea for me and STUPID STRAWZ, Dr. Fad…

“Similar to the credit card approach is getting a line of credit at 10 banks for $2000 or $3000 each. You can get about $30,000 that way.”

Hmm, not so sure about this…

“My major form of financing, other than credit cards, was convincing the Japanese manufacturer to give me a $120,000 line of credit. In effect, he became my bank, my largest creditor.”

As much as I love my fad and am confident in its success, I don’t want STUPID STRAWZ to be the reason a plastic manufacturer's hired toughs break my legs. 

Without money there would be no STUPID STRAWZ. I needed help, and HTCYOFAMAMD provided me with one last option: 1-800-USA-FADS, the hotline set up by Dr. Fad to give advice to "budding fadsters" like myself. Calling that number today, however, connects you to an automated survey that promises a chance at winning a free Caribbean vacation.

How could I turn down a tropical getaway? While I am on hold, stay away from STUPID STRAWZ. That trademark's pending.

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PopTech, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
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History
11 African American Inventors Who Changed the World
Dr. Shirley Jackson speaks at a conference in 2011.
Dr. Shirley Jackson speaks at a conference in 2011.
PopTech, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Can you imagine life without blood banks, personal computers, or touch-tone telephones? These innovative creations—and more—wouldn't exist today if it weren't for the brilliant minds of these 11 African American inventors.

1. THOMAS L. JENNINGS

A laundry operation circa 1925.
Chaloner Woods, Getty Images

Thomas L. Jennings (1791-1859) was the first African American person to receive a patent in the U.S., paving the way for future inventors of color to gain exclusive rights to their inventions. Born in 1791, Jennings lived and worked in New York City as a tailor and dry cleaner. He invented an early method of dry cleaning called "dry scouring" and patented it in 1821—four years before Paris tailor Jean Baptiste Jolly refined his own chemical technique and established what many people claim was history’s first dry cleaning business.

People objected to an African American receiving a patent, but Jennings had a loophole: He was a free man. At the time, U.S. patent laws said that the "[slavemaster] is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual"—meaning slaves couldn't legally own their ideas or inventions, but nothing was stopping Jennings. Several decades later, Congress extended patent rights to all African American individuals, both slaves and freedmen.

Jennings used the money from his invention to free the rest of his family and donate to abolitionist causes.

2. MARK E. DEAN

An old IMB personal computer.
Steve Petrucelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you ever owned the original IBM personal computer, you can partially credit its existence to Mark E. Dean (born 1957). The computer scientist/engineer worked for IBM, where he led the team that designed the ISA bus—the hardware interface that allows multiple devices like printers, modems, and keyboards to be plugged into a computer. This innovation helped pave the way for the personal computer's use in office and business settings.

Dean also helped develop the first color computer monitor, and in 1999 he led the team of programmers that created the world's first gigahertz chip. Today, the computer scientist holds three of the company's original nine patents, and more than 20 overall.

Dean was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1997. He's currently a computer science professor at the University of Tennessee.

3. MADAM C.J. WALKER

Madam C.J. Walker beauty products.
Craig Barritt, Getty Images for Essence

Madam C. J. Walker is often referred to as America’s first self-made female millionaire—a far cry from her roots as the daughter of Louisiana sharecroppers. The entrepreneur was born Sarah Breedlove in 1867, and her early life was filled with hardships: By the age of 20, she was both an orphan and a widow.

Breedlove's fortunes changed after she moved to St. Louis, where her brothers worked as barbers. She suffered from hair loss, and experimented with various products, including hair care recipes developed by an African American businesswoman named Annie Malone.

Breedlove became a sales representative for Malone and relocated to Denver, where she also married her husband, Charles Joseph Walker, a St. Louis newspaperman. Soon after, she began selling her own hair-growing formula developed specifically for African American women.

Breedlove renamed herself "Madam C.J. Walker," heavily promoted her products, and established beauty schools, salons, and training facilities across America. She died a famous millionaire and is today considered to be one of the founders of the African American hair-care and cosmetics industry.

4. DR. SHIRLEY JACKSON

President Barack Obama presents Dr. Shirley Jackson with the National Medal of Science in May 2016.
President Barack Obama presents Dr. Shirley Jackson with the National Medal of Science in May 2016.
NICHOLAS KAMM, AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Shirley Jackson is a theoretical physicist who currently serves as president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. While working at the former AT&T Bell Laboratories, she helped develop technologies that led to the invention of the portable fax, touch-tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology enabling caller ID and call waiting. Jackson was also the first black woman to graduate with a Ph.D. from M.I.T., and the first to be named chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

5. CHARLES RICHARD DREW

Portrait of Charles Richard Drew
Associated Photographic Services, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // Courtesy of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Countless individuals owe their lives to Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950), the physician responsible for America’s first major blood banks. Drew attended McGill University College of Medicine in Montreal, where he specialized in surgery. During a post-graduate internship and residency, the young doctor studied transfusion medicine—and later, while studying at Columbia University on fellowship, he refined key methods of collecting, processing, and storing plasma.

In 1940, World War II was in full swing, and Drew was put in charge of a project called "Blood for Britain." He helped collect thousands of pints of plasma from New York hospitals, and shipped them overseas to treat European soldiers. Drew is also responsible for introducing the use of “bloodmobiles”—refrigerated trucks that transport blood.

The following year, Drew developed another blood bank for military personnel, under the American Red Cross—an effort that grew into the American Red Cross Blood Donor Service. Eventually, he resigned in protest after he learned that the military separated blood donations according to race.

Drew spent the remainder of his life working as a surgeon and a professor, and in 1943, he became the first African American doctor to be chosen as a member of the American Board of Surgery.

6. MARIE VAN BRITTAN BROWN

A CCTV camera outside a home.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

Homeowners can rest a little easier thanks to Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999), a nurse and inventor who invented a precursor to the modern home TV security system. The crime rate was high in Brown's New York City neighborhood, and the local police didn't always respond to emergencies. To feel safer, Brown and her husband developed a way for a motorized camera to peer through a set of peepholes and project images onto a TV monitor. The device also included a two-way microphone to speak with a person outside, and an emergency alarm button to notify the police.

The Browns filed a patent for their closed circuit television security system in 1966, and it was approved on December 2, 1969.

7. GEORGE CARRUTHERS

President Barack Obama presents George Carruthers with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in February 2013.
President Barack Obama presents George Carruthers with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in February 2013.
Brendan Hoffman, Getty Images

George Carruthers (born in 1939) is an astrophysicist who spent much of his career working with the Space Science Division of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C. He’s most famous for creating the ultraviolet camera/spectograph, which NASA used when it launched Apollo 16 in 1972. It helped prove that molecular hydrogen existed in interstellar space, and in 1974 space scientists used a new model version of the camera to observe Halley’s Comet and other celestial phenomena on the U.S.’s first space station, Skylab.

Carruthers was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2003.

8. DR. PATRICIA BATH

Dr. Patricia Bath of Laserphaco in 2012.
Jemal Countess, Getty Images

Dr. Patricia Bath (born 1942) revolutionized the field of ophthalmology when she invented a device that refined laser cataract surgery, called the Laserphaco Probe. She patented the invention in 1988, and today she’s recognized as the first African American woman doctor to receive a medical patent.

Bath is a trailblazer in other areas, too: She was the first African American to finish a residency in ophthalmology; the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the U.S.; and she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. If that weren't enough, Bath's research on health disparities between African American patients and other patients gave birth to a new discipline, "community ophthalmology," in which volunteer eye workers offer primary care and treatment to underserved populations.

9. JAN ERNST MATZELIGER

Postage stamp featuring Jan Ernst Matzeliger
John Flannery, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The average 19th-century person couldn't afford shoes. This changed thanks to Jan Ernst Matzeliger, an immigrant from Dutch Guiana (today called Surinam) who worked as an apprentice in a Massachusetts shoe factory. Matzeliger invented an automated shoemaking machine that attached a shoe’s upper part to its sole. Once it was refined, the device could make 700 pairs of shoes each day—a far cry from the 50 per day that the average worker once sewed by hand. Matzeliger's creation led to lower shoe prices, making them finally within financial reach for the average person.

10. ALEXANDER MILES

Portrait of Alexander Miles
Duluth Public Library archives, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not too much is known about Alexander Miles’s life (1830s–1918), but we do know that the inventor was living in Duluth, Minnesota, when he designed an important safety feature for elevators: their automatic doors. During the 19th century, passengers had to manually open—and close—doors to both the elevator and its shaft. If a rider forgot to close the shaft door, other people risked accidentally falling down the long, vertical hole. Miles’s design—which he patented in 1867—allowed both of these doors to close at once, preventing unfortunate accidents in the making. Today's elevators still employ a similar technology.

11. GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER

Portrait of George Washington Carver
Frances Benjamin Johnston, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

George Washington Carver (1860s-1943) was born into slavery in Missouri. The Civil War ended when he was a boy, allowing the young man the chance to receive an education. Higher education opportunities for African Americans were limited at the time, but Carver eventually received his undergraduate and master's degrees in botany at Iowa State Agricultural College.

After graduation, Carver was hired by Booker T. Washington to run the Tuskegee Institute’s agricultural department, in southeastern Alabama. He helped poor agrarians by teaching them about fertilization and crop rotation—and since the region's primary crop was cotton, which drains nutrients from the soil, the scientist conducted studies to determine which crops naturally thrived in the region. Legumes and sweet potatoes enriched the fields, but there wasn't much of a demand for either. So Carver used the humble peanut to create more than 300 products, ranging from laundry soaps to plastics and diesel fuel. By 1940 it was the South's second-largest cash crop.

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Steak-umm
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Food
A Juicy History of Steak-Umm
Steak-umm
Steak-umm

Eugene Gagliardi, patriarch of the Gagliardi meatpacking business, raised the 22-ounce frozen log of beef byproducts that would shortly become known as Steak-umm and sent it careening into his son’s ankle.

“Nobody is ever going to buy this sh*t!” he screamed, storming off.

"My dad was not supportive," Gene Gagliardi, whose Achilles tendon had been targeted, tells Mental Floss. "I decided to work on it at night."

The elder Gagliardi was not a man given to flights of fancy in the meat business, and now was not the time to try his patience with an experiment. It was the mid-1960s and his company was floundering, having lost some valuable accounts in recent months. What the younger Gagliardi had perceived to be a possible solution was, to his father, a joke. To Gene, it seemed like nothing could be done to please his father—not even his idea to revolutionize the frozen beef business by collecting scraps of unwanted meat and pressing it into a loaf.

The younger Gagliardi would eventually sell Steak-umm to Heinz for $20 million. He was one of the few who saw the potential for thinly-sliced steaks and refused to abandon the idea, even as his ankle throbbed.


Steak-umm Meats via YouTube

When Gagliardi was 6 years old, his father seated him on a pear crate, put a knife in his hand, and told him to start cutting. Chopping beef and poultry was the family business, and the Gagliardi clan—Eugene and his three sons, with Gene the middle child—were prominent meat merchants in the West Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania. There was no time to waste.

In the 1950s, the Gagliardis found success selling portion-controlled meat cuts long before commercial food manufacturers started peddling smaller serving sizes for dieters. They also curated premium slabs of beef and sold them to high-end clientele. When the fast food chains like Burger King and McDonald’s began to proliferate, the Gagliardis earned their business, too.

But by the 1960s, the laundry list of accounts had begun to dry up. Cheaper suppliers were becoming more abundant, and the personalized touch of Gagliardi Brothers was becoming less of a buying influence. With business slowing down, Gene Gagliardi would stay up late at night and think about how to bring his family’s finances back from the brink. That way, maybe his father would allow him to pursue his dream of being a park ranger in Montana.

One of those nights, the then-30-year-old identified a problem with the well-known Philly-style cheesesteaks. The chewy steak cuts were tough to handle for both children and senior citizens, and posed a bit of a choking risk across the board. Gagliardi thought a tender source of the beef would broaden the appeal of the cheesesteak and open it up to a larger market.

"It was tough cow meat back then," he says. "You had to be real careful about feeding it to kids because the meat would drag out of the sandwich. I thought, well, if you can homogenize milk, you should be able to homogenize meat."

Gagliardi thought he could soften up the meat by running it repeatedly through a meat grinder. "I did that about five times, extracting the protein out, and it became a solid mass. I couldn't slice it, so I froze it and then put it back in the fridge for four days to temperate it, then sliced it." Gagliardi had created a tender meat product that could be sold frozen and virtually eliminated the choking hazards of conventional Philly cheesesteaks.

(In a 2012 federal court ruling, a judge would articulate exactly what Gagliardi had done. "[The Steak-umm was] from chopped and formed emulsified meat product that is comprised of beef trimmings left over after an animal is slaughtered and all of the primary cuts, such as tenderloin, filet, and rib eye, are removed,” Judge Lawrence Stengel wrote. “The emulsified meat is pressed into a loaf and sliced, frozen, and packaged.")

Because the beef was so flat, it took only 30 seconds to cook each side. Gagliardi tasted it, found it delicious, and thought he’d solved his family’s problems.

His father was not a fan. After berating his son for even contemplating the idea, he begrudgingly allowed him to peddle it to supermarkets. Gagliardi offered to sell it below cost so stores would carry it. Marketed under the Gagliardi's frozen brand of Table Treats, the frozen meat slices debuted in 1969.

"We actually sold it to school lunch programs," Gagliardi says. "Kids ate it, loved it, then went home and asked for it."

Its eye-raising origins aside, shoppers seemed to embrace the product. It was quick to make—some college students even cooked the slices by wrapping them in foil and ironing them—tasty, and easy to chew. The company even distributed it with frozen rolls for a complete Philly cheesesteak experience. By 1975, Gagliardi was distributing them under the name Steak-umm after a friend suggested it during a quail hunting expedition. By 1980, he says, it was the best-selling frozen meat product in retailer freezers: "Competitors would try to pay off inspectors to find out how we did it."

While the Steak-umm name was trademarked, Gagliardi was unsuccessful in obtaining a patent for the process used to make them. He blamed confusion in filing the papers. "My brother was Mr. Thrifty and went to an attorney who had never filed for a patent before," he says.

Whatever the case, Steak-umm knock-offs became pervasive. When Heinz approached the brothers in 1980 with an offer of $20 million for the rights, it was an easy decision.

The marketing muscle of Heinz further endeared the Steak-umm brand to consumers. Heinz (via their Ore-Ida division) owned Steak-umm through 1994 before selling it back to Gagliardi and his newest venture, Designer Foods. All along, the butcher had been treating his kitchen like a lab, finding new ways to trim meats to maximize profitability for distributors. He wound up patenting several novel methods, including what would become KFC’s Popcorn Chicken in 1992.

Steak-umm changed hands once more in 2006, when Quaker Maid Meats purchased the company. In 2008, they entered into lengthy litigation with Steak ‘Em Up, a Philadelphia-based eatery that Quaker alleged was guilty of consumer confusion. A 2012 federal ruling was in favor of the defendant, who serves authentic Philly cheesesteaks and “thought it was a joke” that anyone could confuse them for the frozen alternative.

At 86, Gagliardi still toils at the butcher’s block, working on food innovation for his company, Creativators. Despite his numerous contributions to food service, he still feels slighted by his father, who passed away in 1991 and apparently never acknowledged his son’s success.

"I never got a compliment," he says.

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