A history of Crisco
January 1, 1913
Big Vegetable Oil
Of course, American housewives didn’t jump into a whole new way of cooking overnight. P&G ran a massive advertising campaign to draw them into using this new kind of shortening. In The Story of Crisco (1913), the first of several cookbooks that P&G published entirely on this new product, much of the language is devoted to portraying Crisco as a “new” and “better” fat that would appeal to a housewife’s longing to be up to date. While Crisco may be “a shock to the older generation born in an age less progressive than our own,” it says, a modern woman is “glad” to give up butter and lard just as her “Grandmother” was happy to forgo the “fatiguing spinning wheel.” The cookbook also claimed that Crisco was easier to digest than butter or lard, and that it was produced in “sparkling bright rooms” where “white enamel covers metal surfaces.” (This last point was meant to set Crisco apart from pig lard and recent scandals over its squalid production conditions.) And unlike lard, Crisco didn’t smoke up the house when used in frying: “Kitchen odors are out of place in the parlor,” it advised.
Crisco’s sales multiplied forty times in merely four years following its introduction, luring other brands into the market with names such as Polar White, White Ribbon, and Flakewhite. During World War I, the government required that bakers use all-vegetable shortening so that lard could be exported to European allies, and this provided an enormous boost to the industry. Once commercial bakers discovered how to use vegetable shortening, they stayed with it.
By the early 1940s, one and a half billion pounds of this shortening were being produced in sixty-five plants around the country, and vegetable shortening became the eighth-ranking food item by sales, with the Crisco brand always in the lead. “And so the nation’s cookbook has been hauled out and revised. Upon thousands of pages the words ‘lard’ and ‘butter’ have been crossed out and the word ‘Crisco’ written in their place,” celebrated The Story of Crisco.