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Fascinating facts about the invention
of JELL-O by Pearl B. Wait in 1897.
Peter Cooper, inventor of the famous locomotive "Tom Thumb" and patron of the arts and sciences, obtained the first patent for a gelatin dessert in i845. Gelatin itself, however, was discovered long before then. History’s first reference to it is in i682, when a Frenchman named Denis Papin recorded his research on the subject. His experiments resulted in a method of removing the glutinous material from animal bones by boiling. It has no taste, no odor, and, when combined with liquid, no color, but it is pure protein. The gourmet-minded French like their foods en gelee-and their word for it is gelatine. The preferred spelling is without that final e, whether you’re referring to flavored or unflavored gelata. Peter Cooper did nothing about his patent for a gelatin dessert, and neither did anyone else for fifty years.

In 1897 Pearl B. Wait was a cough syrup manufacturer in Le-Roy, New York, whose business was not going very well. So he decided to give up the cough syrup business and branch out into something new. He picked the food industry. People eat all the time, he reasoned, while they take medicine only when they are sick.

For many years food manufacturers had experimented with gelatin, which is made from animal bones, but no one had been able to come up with a gelatin that was appealing. Gelatin looked bad, and it didn't taste very good, either. So Mr. Wait went to work. His answer was to add fruit syrup to gelatin. He named his new product "Jello."
The new business had no competition, but, unfortunately, not enough people wanted to try Jello. Wait sold the business to Orator Francis Woodward, a neighbor, for $450. Later when Woodward tried to sell the Jell-O business, reportedly for only $35. And no one was interested in buying it! 

About 1900 a number of cooking experts discovered Jell-O and decided it was just the thing for an elegant meal. That changed everything. Jell-O began to appear at banquets and fancy dinners. In 1902, O. F. Woodward launches the advertising campaign, "America's most favorite Dessert" for JELL-O gelatin. Today, Jell-o is the largest selling prepared dessert and is known world-wide.


History of Snacks and Food  from The Great Idea Finder

The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle: And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages (1999) / Puffin
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident.

Why Didn't I Think of That?: Bizarre Origins of Ingenious Inventions We Couldn't Live Without
by Allyn Freeman, Bob Golden (Contributor) / Paperback - 224 pages (1997) / John Wiley & Sons

Inventions chronicles the odd origins of famous products, explores how these inventions changed our lives, and reveals the business side of their production and distribution.
Jell-O: A Biography
by Carolyn Wyman / Paperback: 144 pages / Harvest Books, 1 Ed edition (October 2001)
Chock full of history, lore and ephemera as well as recipes for main courses and desserts, ideas for crafts, and just plain silly stuff, this little volume delivers.
The Magic of JELL-O
Paperback: 128 pages / Sterling Publications (December 2001)
It jiggles, it wiggles, and you have loved how it tastes since you were little--now prepare JELL-O(r) in all kinds of luscious desserts and tempting snacks. Contains 100 new and favorits Jell-o recipes.
Why Didn't I Think of That (This title is out of print.)
by Webb Garrison / Hardcover - 120 pages
(1977) / Prentice Hall / ISBN: 39586032

Official JELL-O Site
Kraft Foods celebrates with the cool history of JELL-O.
Lots of COOKIES at this site.
Jell-0 Museum
There's Always Room for Jell-O.
Peter Cooper
Dedicated to remembering the chemical experimentation of Peter Cooper, the founder of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art .
JELL-O Recipes
Brief Jell-o history and lots of Jell-o recipes from Nancy's Kitchen. Pop-up ads.
The History and Mystery of Jell-O
Article By Judy Lowe  for the  Christian Science Monitor. Pop-up ads.


  • In Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 silent film "The Ten Commandments," Jell-O was used to create the effect of keeping the Red Sea parted as the Israelites fled Egypt.
  • In "The Wizard of Oz," the horse that changed colors was actually six horses sponged down with Jell-O.
  • The first four Jell-O flavors were orange, lemon, strawberry, and raspberry. Lime was introduced in 1930
  • More than 1,134,239 packages of Jell-O gelatin are purchased or eaten every day.
  • Today, if placed end to end, the 413,997,403 million packages of Jell-O gelatin dessert produced in a year would stretch three-fifths of the way around the globe with plenty of room to spare.
  • Jell-O is a brand recognized by 99% of Americans and used regularly in 72% of our homes.


JELL-O is a registered trademarks of Kraft Foods, Inc.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised January, 2005.

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