CLOSE
Original image
Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

9 Things You Might Not Know About Folgers

Original image
Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Despite appearances, not everyone heads to Starbucks for their morning caffeine fix. For well over 150 years, Folgers has been delivering ground, whole-bean, instant, and home-brew coffees to millions of sleepy consumers. Check out some facts on the company's history, from their origins in whaling to some unfortunate run-ins with Charles Manson and snapping turtles.

1. THE FAMILY WAS NAME-DROPPED IN MOBY-DICK.

For centuries, the Folger clan of Nantucket was renowned for their whaling efforts. (Oil from whale blubber was often used for lamps until kerosene grew in popularity.) They were so well known that author Herman Melville referred to "a long line of Folgers and harpooneers" in his classic Moby-Dick.

2. THE COMPANY WAS FOUNDED THANKS TO THE GOLD RUSH.

Folgers

James Folger was just 15 years old when his parents dispatched him and two older brothers to San Francisco to mine for gold in 1849. As plans go, it wasn’t a great one: the Folger boys didn’t have enough money to travel to the mining areas, so James stayed behind to earn some cash. He wound up working for the Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills company, which was marketing an early, commercially roasted ground coffee. Two decades later, James returned—this time with more cash—and bought the business, renaming it J.A. Folger & Co. in 1872.

3. MAXWELL HOUSE WAS AN EARLY NEMESIS.

After decades of being a regional favorite, Folgers was purchased by Procter & Gamble in 1963 and quickly became part of the national competition for store-bought coffee brands. Wary of giving up any ground, Maxwell House formed an in-house "Folgers Defense Team" in 1971. The result: Horizon, a coffee that came in a red can similar to Folgers, and a television commercial character named Aunt Cora (played by Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz). Cora was meant to be a take on Folgers’ Mrs. Olson (see below), with the hope that if Maxwell House ran the commercials in regions early enough, Olson would seem like a second-rate take-off. Folgers was forced to lower their price from $1.20 to 87 cents per can just to remain competitive. By 1979, however, they had taken over 26.5 percent of the market share, well ahead of Maxwell House’s 22.3 percent.

4. EARLY COMMERCIALS WERE NOT VERY PC.

While Folgers has a history of memorable television spots, their most enduring ad campaign revolved around a Swedish character named Mrs. Olson, who appeared to keep busy by introducing Folgers coffee to her overworked neighbors in a series of pretty sexist ads in the 1950s and 1960s. (Folgers conducted research into how petulant the onscreen husbands could get and found housewives considered any kind of verbal abuse so typical as to be acceptable.) Virginia Christine, who portrayed Olson for 21 years, was born in Stanton, Iowa in 1920. When the ads grew popular, the town renovated its trademark water tower so it resembled a coffee pot in her honor.

5. THEY HAVE A LINK TO THE MANSON MURDERS.

One of the 20th century’s most infamous crimes was the murder of Sharon Tate and four of her houseguests in 1969 by disciples of cult leader Charles Manson. Among the victims: Abigail Folger, the 25-year-old Folger fortune heiress, daughter of Peter Folger and great-granddaughter of founder James Folger.  (Manson and his cohorts were convicted of first-degree murder in 1971.)

6. THE "PETER" COMMERCIAL RAN FOR OVER 17 YEARS.

You’ll know it when you see it: in the 1986 television spot, a college student named Peter gets dropped off at the family home in a Volkswagen Beetle and surreptitiously makes coffee for his sleeping parents with the help of his younger sister. It’s a cozy little bit, and consumers responded so strongly that Folgers ran the ad for 17 consecutive years. Greg Wrangler, who played the coffee-making intruder, told BrandLandUSA.com in 2008 that producers wanted it to be timeless. "I remember they were really concerned about the look of the spot," he said. "I’m referring to their choices on wardrobe … the Irish wool sweater, the VW Beetle that drops me off … they didn’t want it to be dated … which I think was a big factor in their ability to run it for so long."

7. A WOMAN FOUND A SNAPPING TURTLE IN ONE CAN.

A lot of coffee comes into the United States via New Orleans, which is why 2005’s Hurricane Katrina resulted in a marked disruption of supply. The natural disaster may have had other side effects: According to the Associated Press, Marjorie Morris of Ainsworth, Iowa found a dead baby snapping turtle in her can of Folgers. While no harm came to Morris, she was dismayed by her timing: the 77-year-old had been using the can for a month before spotting the added ingredient.

8. THEY CAME UP WITH SOME PRETTY CLEVER MANHOLE COVER ADS.

John Morton via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In 2006, Folgers garnered some positive PR when they used foot-proof signage to cover manholes in New York City and made them resemble hot cups of coffee, complete with steam emitting from holes in the cover. While clever, the stunt had an unintended side effect: the aroma from the sewers was not what you’d normally associate with coffee. 

9. THEY’RE PRETTY TIGHT WITH DUNKIN’.

Folgers was acquired by the J.M. Smucker company in 2008, putting it under the same corporate umbrella as the Dunkin' Donuts retail license. Together, the two home coffee brands made $577 million for the company in the second quarter of 2016 alone.

Original image
Montaag
arrow
Design
This Concrete Block Makes a Fine Espresso
Original image
Montaag

Have you ever thought your kitchen could use more of a Soviet Union vibe? Do you find the fixtures in abandoned buildings charming? Then the AnZa espresso machine—essentially a coffee maker encased in a concrete block—may be for you.

According to Curbed, the AnZa is part of the art and installation aesthetic dubbed Brutalism, an architectural movement using spare, blocky designs. Moving away from the sleek, shiny appearance of most modern appliances, design firm Montaag crafted a rough block with simple knobs. As post-apocalyptic as it may look, it’s reputed to make a very good cup of espresso. And it’s “smart”: a smartphone app can adjust the brewing temperature to the user’s preference.

A close-up of the AnZa's knob
Montaag

The project’s Kickstarter recently met its $145,000 goal and is now accepting preorders at Indiegogo for $799. You can hoist this subjectively beautiful appliance on your countertop beginning in March 2018.

[h/t Curbed]

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
What Is Pumpkin Spice?
Original image
iStock

Pumpkin Spice season seems to come earlier every year, but today marks its official arrival, as October 1 is National Pumpkin Spice Day. Before you reach for a cup, drink this in: The flavor can be composed of more than 300 elements—and pumpkin isn’t one of them.

Most recipes include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and vanilla, but not every incarnation of the concoction is the same, according to a video by food scientist and spokesperson for The Institute of Food Technologists, Kantha Shelke, Ph.D, C.F.S.

So what’s the connection to the season’s most beloved orange fruit? (Yes, pumpkin is a fruit!) Flavor companies also add in skillfully designed compounds that mimic the taste of pumpkin pie. Each chemical is carefully reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and approved at concentrations of about 20 to 50 times the normal consumption level. And even though the full flavor contains 340 compounds, combining only five to 10 percent of those molecules in a mix is enough to trick our brains into thinking, “Mmm, just like Thanksgiving!”

But beware: attempting to recreate the magic in the average kitchen isn't as easy as pie. With only the spices available at a supermarket, the final product will likely taste more like Chai than the seasonal treat on professional menus. “Pumpkin Spice isn’t set in stone,” Shelke says. “Everyone has their secret recipe.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios