Television Review: The Food That Built America

This three part series currently airing on The History Channel is must see TV for all foodies!

The current food industry is a five billion dollar a day enterprise, accounting for one fifth of the United States economy, and supplies one out of four American jobs.

This is a tale of several early visionary’s and pioneers of the food industry and their fascinating stories. 150 years ago, none of these products even existed. Without giving too much away, here are some examples:

  • Milton Hershey – Hershey’s now sells over 250 million bars per year, but he built his factory and town to house his workers before he even perfected his recipe for his chocolate bar. After perfecting his recipe for a chocolate bar, he became very successful, and one of his biggest customers was a man named…
  • Frank Mars – the founder of Mars Company. He, along with his son, Forrest Mars, invented the Milky Way bar and bought the chocolate for the coating from the Hershey Company. Hershey’s did not realize at the time that they were suppling chocolate to what would eventually become one of its biggest competitors. His son,
  • Forrest Mars – had a bitter split with his father and he started his own food business, Food Products Manufacturing. In partnership with a former assistant to Milton Hershey, they invented the Mars bar and M & M’s, the latter which became a phenomenal success. After the death of his father, he merged his company with his fathers, Mars. Inc.
  • Henry Heinz – There are 650 million bottles of his ketchup sold per year, but he went bankrupt before he tried again and perfected his product.
  • John Pemberton – He was an opium addict that was trying to perfect a tonic made from coca leaves and cola nuts that might wean him off of opium. That tonic would eventually become Coca Cola, which currently accounts for 1.9 billion servings per day. Due to his ongoing illness, he sold his formula for next to nothing to…
  • Asa Chandler – He took the product to the next level with mass distribution and is considered the founder of Coke.
  • Dick and Mac McDonald – The brothers that founded the first McDonalds restaurant and came up with the assembly line model of fast food service used by many fast foods restaurants today. They eventually sold the franchise for next to nothing to a milkshake mixer salesman named…
  • Ray Kroc – He was so impressed with the McDonalds brothers operation, that he envisioned the restaurants being world wide. He eventually raised enough money to buy them out, and he is credited with taking them to the next level.
  • John H. Kellogg – a brilliant physician, he over saw a health club / sanitarium in Battle Creek Michigan and was looking for a way to serve a healthier breakfast to his patients. He came up with and idea to make a dough from wheat, oats and corn and bake it, dry it and smash it into pieces. This became a very early version of breakfast cereal.
  • Will K. Kellogg – John Kellogg’s younger brother that was not as educated as his brother and considered somewhat dim-witted by many, quit his job as a broom salesman and joined his brother at the sanitarium as a helper and accountant. One day while making the dough, someone left the cereal dough out overnight but not wanting to waste it, the brothers rolled it out and the result was corn flakes. Will wanted to mass produce the cereals, but his brother John did not, and was willing to show all patients the process. One such patient,
  • C.W. Post – saw the process and left the sanitarium as a patient and copied the process to start his own company, Post Cereals, which later became General Foods. He sold a cereal that was very successful, Grape – Nuts. This infuriated Will Kellogg, and he split with his brother to start the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which later became the Kellogg Company, and the rest is history. Meanwhile, after becoming very successful, years later, despondent over his ongoing stomach illness, he took his own life with a gunshot wound and left his fortune to his young, enterprising 27 year old daughter that grew up in the business. The name of this young lady was….
  • Marjorie Merriweather Post – she took the reigns of the company and ran with it. She was ahead of her time for that era, becoming the head of a company as a young woman, but she was very successful and became a very wealthy socialite. She built a mansion in Palm Beach Florida and named it Mar-a-lago. This is currently home to our now President Donald Trump. She had heard about a young man that was working on frozen food processes and was interested to learn more about it. The young man’s name was ….
  • Clarence Birdseye – while working in Canada for the U.S. Agricultural Department, he learned from an intuit how to ice fish under very thick ice in minus 40 degree temperatures and discovered that when it was thawed a few days later, it tasted fresh and he became fascinated with creating a fast frozen process. He began fast freezing fish and started his own company. Not having the financial means to continue experimenting, he sold his company to the Post Company and signed on as president.
  • Harland Sanders – as a filling station operator, he was selling fried chicken to travelers along the highway and became frustrated at how long it took to fry his chicken because the travelers were not willing to wait along time. He came up with a process using a modified pressure cooker, and came up with a seasoned flour with secret herbs and spices. Having some success, he eventually opened his own restaurant in Corbin, Ky. Business started of well, but at that time, the interstate highway system was building interstates, which killed a lot of businesses, including his, when the main highways started seeing a lot less traffic. He then had to close what would be the only restaurant he ever owned. He went on the road and started selling his process and formula and franchising to other restaurants and gas stations. He sold his company in 1964 at 72 years old, and signed on to remain on as the company spokesman.

While I have provided a lot of information here, I have not really even scratched the surface of the information that this series provides. The characters are played by actors and the scenes are very well done. In this day and age of “fluff” T.V. Such as “The Bacherlorette” it is very refreshing to see that there is still some quality, informative programming on the air! This gets a definite “Two thumbs up” from me!

Published by


Husband, Father, Grandfather, foodie. I have worked in various capacities of food service for 50 years. Baker, cook, manager, restaurant owner, personal chef and food sales / consulting. Recently retired. I love to cook and photograph food. My other hobbies include organic gardening, fishing, bicycling, reading, music and golf.

One thought on “Television Review: The Food That Built America”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.