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An ad from 1951. Jamie via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
An ad from 1951. Jamie via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

11 Hulking Facts About Green Giant

An ad from 1951. Jamie via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
An ad from 1951. Jamie via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although most well known for its peas and corn, the Green Giant brand sells a variety of fresh, frozen, canned, bagged, and boxed vegetables (as well as hummus). Founded in 1903 as the Minnesota Valley Canning Company, the company changed its name in 1950 to Green Giant, though its recognizable mascot had been around much longer. Read on for 11 things you might not know about the veggie company.

1. THE COMPANY WAS AT THE FOREFRONT OF INDUSTRIAL CANNING.

In 1903, 14 merchants in Le Sueur, Minnesota joined forces to create the Minnesota Valley Canning Company. They started an industrial cannery, producing and selling 11,750 cases of white corn in their first year of business. In 1907, they started producing cans of Early June peas, and they continued to focus only on corn and peas until 1939 when they began also selling canned asparagus.

2. GREEN GIANT PEAS WERE NAMED AFTER A BIG PEA FROM ENGLAND.

Until 1925, the Minnesota Valley Canning Company only sold Early June peas, a variety of small, sweet peas. When a company executive found a large pea in England that was tender and tasted sweet, he brought it back to Minnesota. At the time, the company couldn’t legally trademark the name Green Giant to describe the peas, so they created a mascot named Green Giant and sold the new type of peas under that name.

3. THE ORIGINAL GREEN GIANT MASCOT WAS NEITHER JOLLY NOR GREEN…

COURTESY GREEN GIANT

The original Green Giant mascot was a white (not green) man holding a giant pea pod in his arms. Starting in 1928, he appeared in ads for the peas. The Green Giant’s original incarnation was reportedly influenced by illustrations from Grimms' Fairy Tales, a collection of German fairy tales from the early 1800s.

4. …BUT HE BECAME THE GENTLE GIANT WE KNOW TODAY THANKS TO THE CREATOR OF TONY THE TIGER AND THE PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY.

An ad from 1953. Jamie via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The advertising company Leo Burnett, which created other well-known food mascots such as Tony the Tiger, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and Toucan Sam, softened the Green Giant’s appearance in 1935. The revised giant had a smile to match his new name, the Jolly Green Giant, and he wore a toga of green leaves. He also got a backstory—he watched over the Jolly Green Giant Valley, protecting the crops.

5. GREEN GIANT HAS CLOSE TIES WITH LE SUEUR VEGETABLES.

Green Giant and Le Sueur are different brands under the same company. Because the Minnesota Valley Canning Company was founded in Le Sueur, Minnesota, the company named its canned vegetables Le Sueur Z. They dropped the Z in 1933, but Le Sueur still sells cans of peas, asparagus, and carrots today.

6. LITTLE GREEN SPROUT HAS BEEN LEARNING FROM THE JOLLY GREEN GIANT SINCE THE EARLY 1970s.

Green Giant introduced another company mascot called Little Green Sprout in 1973. Aimed at children, the young green boy with leaves for hair joined the Jolly Green Giant in the valley, learning about veggies and keeping him company. Little Green Sprout’s youth is reinforced with his high-pitched voice, a stark contrast to the Jolly Green Giant’s booming "ho, ho, ho" tagline.

7. YOU CAN VISIT A TOWERING 55-FOOT STATUE OF THE JOLLY GREEN GIANT.

Tourists to Blue Earth, Minnesota will probably marvel at the sight of a 55-foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant. Paul Hedberg, a radio station owner, wanted to encourage visitors who were traveling on Interstate 90 to stop in Blue Earth, so he contacted Green Giant to ask if a statue could be erected. Green Giant gave the okay, and Hedberg raised money from local businesses. The fiberglass statue, which has been towering over the town since 1979, even gets a giant red scarf placed around his neck each winter.

8. GREEN GIANT HAS INNOVATED VEGETABLE MANUFACTURING METHODS.

Green Giant has a history of being on the cutting edge of research and development. In 1929, the company invented Green Giant Niblets by canning vacuum-packed sweet corn in a new way. In 1933, the company used gravity separators—machines that measured and separated peas during the manufacturing process. And in 1969, Green Giant was the first company to sell frozen corn on the cob and mushrooms in glass jars.

9. GREEN GIANT FREEZES THEIR VEGETABLES AFTER HARVESTING TO PRESERVE NUTRIENTS.

Studies have shown that freezing vegetables at their peak ripeness can preserve the nutrients, so you can get just as much benefit from eating frozen veggies as eating fresh ones. Green Giant’s sweet corn, for example, is frozen and packaged within 24 hours of being harvested, and then shipped to a grocery store near you.

10. GREEN GIANT SUPPORTS BULLY PREVENTION.

Green Giant has partnered with Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center to help kids who are bullied. With the "Nominate A Giant" program, Green Giant encourages people in the community to nominate kids and adults who stand up against bullies. "From being friendly in the halls to inviting others to sit with you at lunch, your nice gesture is what makes you a Giant," the company writes, and they reported that more than 12,000 people nominated "giants" on their social media pages.

11. THE JOLLY GREEN GIANT HAS BECOME A POP CULTURE ICON.

People love the Green Giant’s combination of brawn and gentleness. In Blue Earth, Minnesota, people can visit the Green Giant Museum and get a kick out of seeing the giant green footsteps that are painted on the sidewalks each summer for the town’s Giant Days festival and parade. For those not in Minnesota, Green Giant vintage merchandise such as dolls, kites, shirts, hats, coffee cups, and posters are available for sale online.

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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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