Newspaper articles

The Great Baking Powder War of 1919

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Never heard of it? Well, where have you been? It was quite the dustup.

To be fair, the baking powder war wasn’t confined to 1919. That just happens to be the year in which I stumbled across ads in a Morgan City newspaper for baking powder.

Think about it. Without baking powder, we wouldn’t have cake. OK. We’d have cake.

But, after reading an article about baking in the days before baking powder and store-bought yeast, I probably would have done without cake. If you go back far enough in history, you had to make yeast before you made cake. That meant letting stuff ferment and create yeast. So maybe Marie Antoinette wasn’t being callous when she suggested the peasants eat cake. Maybe she was just trying to occupy their time so they’d leave her alone.

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Baking powder as we know it dates to the 1880s. This was revolutionary. It literally transformed recipes. Cookbooks had to be rewritten. Baking powder was big business. Soon, a number of manufacturers sprang up, including cost-cutter Calumet. And then things got nasty.

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 6.37.08 PM.pngRoyal Baking Powder started advertising its baking powder as the pure baking powder and suggested other brands might harm your health. Then Royal started handing out bribes and convinced the Missouri Legislature to ban baking powders – like Calumet – that contained acid sodium aluminum phosphate.

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Millions of dollars in bribes exchanged hands. Folks were locked up and fined for selling illegal baking powder. All to bake your ancestor a cake.

Eventually, Missouri’s lieutenant governor was forced to resign because he was ferrying bribes. How many people can say their political career was ruined by baking powder?

The saga didn’t end there. The advertising war raged on until the number of baking powder companies diminished. Calumet still exists, by the way. It’s now owned by Kraft.

So now you know the cost of changing the way your ancestor baked. Be thankful the next time you crack open a box of Betty Crocker cake mix.




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