The VERY FIRST Jell-O Recipe Inside...

It's been called "America's most famous dessert", by Irma S Rombauer, the famous American chef and cookbook author of 'The Joy of Cooking', and just seven years after it's introduction, Jell-0 sales had reached over $1 MILLION DOLLARS!

- That's over $34,703,555.56 TODAY!!

Now, we know that it isn't that Jell-O was the tastiest or most decadent or desired desert of the early 1900s, BUT it did appeal to THE MASSES! Kind of like the Instapot did for our day and age (more on that another time).

Today, we're looking for the VERY FIRST Jell-O Recipe. To do that we must go to the very beginning of Jell-O and step back into the late 19th century (that's the late 1800s)...

Without going too far back into the history and invention of "gelatin" by a French researcher in the 17th century we'll jump ahead to the year 1845...

Industrialist and inventor Peter Cooper obtained the first patent for the effective manufacture of gelatin from animal bones - sounds gross, but this gelatinous substance that separates from the bones as they are being boiled is pure protein and has THOUSANDS OF USES in food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and more. 

Here's a picture of the handsome Peter Cooper (from Wikipedia)...

Unfortunately for Cooper, while he did patent the gelatin and even manufactured it, he wasn't a marketer and did little to commercialize it. 

(Side note - Not that we should feel too bad for Cooper, he did go on to invent the Tom Thumb locomotive engine and other heavy machines and eventually formed the B&O Railroad (which is pretty amazing and one of my favorite properties to own on Monopoly).

Lucky for us, (the consumers of Jell-O) Cooper eventually ran acorss, Pearle B. Wait, (speaking of Pearle, here's his picture...)

Pearle Bixby Wait, was a carpenter in LeRoy, New York, (anyone from LeRoy, New York?) and busy making cough remedy and laxative tea in his home when he came across this formula for "gelatine" from Cooper.

Hoping to get rich, he purchased the formula for 'portable gelatine' which he planned to sell door to door from Cooper and started to experiment with it. 

His idea was to perfect a fruit flavored dessert, - which soon became known as Jell-O, named by his wife, May! 

   Thank you May!

Now May doesn't get much credit for the invention of Jell-O, but as all wise women know, what happens in the kitchen has more to do with the women than the men.

So, I'm going to give May a TON OF CREDIT here, especially when you consider the name she chose - she had to be PRETTY INVOLVED in the process of inventing "Jell-O" to come up with that! 

(In fact, it was May who suggested adding fruit syrup to this product.)

Can you guess the first flavors?

If you said, Strawberry, Raspberry, Orange and Lemon - YOU'RE CORRECT!! 

So, after finally figuring it out, Pearle set out to try and sell his (and May's) new invention.

However, as those of us know who think we have a "million dollar recipe" sitting inside of our recipe box - it's one thing to be able to make the most amazing food, it's another to be able to monetize it.

Sadly for Pearle and May, they just lacked the experience and the capital to make anything come of their new invention and so in 1899 he sold his (and May's) formula to a fellow townsman in LeRoy, NY named Orator Frank Woodward.

As you'll soon learn, Woodward, after LOADS of hard work would eventually become rich, but the Wait family did not. After her husband Pearle died in 1915, May supported herself and daughter Evalyn by working as a laundress (1920 census) and by taking in roomers (1930 census); in the 1940 census she was living with Evalyn and her new husband. She died poor on 14 April 1946 and is buried in Le Roy.

But now back to the story...

Woodward was a local man Pearle had done some carpentry work for in the past and when Woodward heard about this new formula he was interested! 

So much so that in 1899 Pearle sold his formula to Woodward for $450, the equivalent of $15,444.99 today (keep in mind 2024 inflation)!

Now it's hard to know what Woodward was thinking, but hindsight being what it is, if you ask me, either Woodward was just taking a gamble on this new formula or he could see HUGE potential!

See, Woodward had already had some success in manufacturing and selling and was one of the best known manufacturers of proprietary medicines and the owner of the Genesee Pure Food Company

Here's Orator Francis Woodward...

Now before we jump too far ahead in the story it's probably time to reveal the VERY FIRST Jell-O Recipe, (which you might have already guessed)...

It's hard to know for sure, but the first Jell-O recipe that gained widespread attention was likely one of the simple formulations included in the early marketing materials distributed by the Genesee Pure Food Company.

✦ So, if you guessed: Dissolving the Jell-O powder, either Strawberry, Raspberry, Orange or Lemon flavored in boiling water, then adding cold water and letting it set, as the VERY FIRST Jell-O Recipe —YOU'RE RIGHT!

Part of what made Jell-O SO popular in it's early days were the simple and straightforward recipes, focusing on showcasing the ease of preparation and versatility of the product. 

As time passed and with the onset of the Great Depression, Jell-O gained even more popularity due to it's convenience and affordability as a fantastic dessert for everyday families.

✦ To hear the rest of this interesting story and learn more about Cora Talmage Woodward, wife or Orator and the one largely behind the success of Jell-O, be sure you join us HERE as I continue this amazing story behind a product that has only grown in popularity even 125 years later! 

Here's the beautiful Cora Talmage Woodward...


✦ Looking for a great Jell-O Mold that also works great for homemade popsicles? click here!


Sources: Pearle Bixby Wait Find a GraveMay. M Davis Biography

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