78-156 New York Route 19
Le Roy, NY
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First JELL-O Factory
In 1897, Pearle Bixby Wait of LeRoy, introduced a gelatin dessert that his wife, May, named JELL-O. The first four flavors were strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon. In 1899, he began production of JELL-O in a factory building located near this site. On September 9, 1899 he sold the rights to JELL-O to the Genesee Pure Food Company of LeRoy for $450.
Erected by the LeRoy Historical Society — 1997
What was there
Nearby was the original Jell-O factory run by its founder in 1899 and then sold later that year.
American inventor Peter Cooper (of New York) patented the first powdered and easily soluble form of gelatin; a convenient dessert mix in 1845. He came across this discovery when coming up with glue formulas for his glue business. He also developed the standard method of testing (still in use today), as well as patented the first American steam locomotive (known as the “Tom Thumb”). He patented the dessert product and put it into production, but it saw little success.
While the Knox company of Johnstown, New York began selling packages of powdered gelatin as early as 1873, it required people to add sweetener and flavoring to make a delicious dessert. In LeRoy, NY, a carpenter and part-time patent medicine syrup creator, Pearle Bixby Wait, formulated a gelatin dessert while working on syrups. His wife, May, called it Jell-O. Appending “O” at the end of names of products was trendy at the time, and another popular food item made in LeRoy, a cereal-based drink called Grain-O, probably influenced the name. Pearle lacked the experience and capital to sell and market the product on his own, and the construction of this factory was his last effort to build the business.
Later that year, he sold the name and assets of the company to fellow LeRoy businessman, Orator Frank Woodward, founder of the Genesee Pure Foods Company. Woodward’s successful business manufacturing and marketing Grain-O, allowed him to propel the Jell-O brand into the forefront of quick prepared foods for American kitchens. Years later, Woodward built a large factory on North St for manufacturing and shipping. Although gelatin-based foods and desserts have been around for quite some time, Jell-O’s aggressive marketing and ease of use, made it the number one brand world-wide.
What is there now
The factory is no longer here. This is a residential neighborhood. Some of these homes were built around the time the factory existed. Jell-O is no longer manufactured in New York State.
- The first documented case of gelatin production is from 1682 when Denis Papin of France experimented by boiling animal bones to extract gel.
- Prior to sheet and powdered gelatin, cooks would boil animal (typically cow) feet to make “Bone Jelly.” This jelly was used not just as a food, but to preserve food, as a binding agent, and as a protein-rich filler.
- Around the time Pearle Wait produced Jell-O, miles away in New York City, Stern & Saalberg were peddling their own powdered gelatin dessert mix in 5 flavors. It was called Bro-Man-Gel-On, and the mascot was the illustrated brunette, Tattling Toostie, who would divulge secrets about her mother’s dessert recipes. Stern & Saalberg went on to produce the Toostie Roll, named after this popular mascot.
- In 1889, Charles B. Knox of Johnstown, New York discovered his own method of granulating gelatin, and founded the Knox Gelatin Company, which specialized in all-purpose unflavored gelatin. It has been a major competitor ever since.
- The LeRoy Historical Society runs the Jell-O Gallery, located on Main St. It is a showcase of the breakthrough marketing campaigns throughout the brand’s history, as well as various Jello-O artifacts.
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