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- McIlhenny's gold : how a Louisiana family built the tabasco empire
- McIlhenny's Gold: How a Louisiana Family Built the Tabasco Empire
In this fascinating history, Jeffrey Rothfeder tells how, from a simple idea-the outgrowth of a handful of peppers planted on an isolated island on the Gulf of Mexico-a secretive family business emerged that would produce one of the best-known products in the world. A delectable and satisfying read for both Tabasco fans and business buffs, McIlhenny's Gold is the untold story of the continuing success of an eccentric, private company; a lively history of one of the most popular consumer products of all times; and an exploration of our desire to test the limits of human tolerance for fiery foods.
He lives in Cortlandt Manor, New York. More about the author.
Search the Australian Bookseller's Association website to find a bookseller near you. Judge Avery's servants and slaves prepared the wedding feast, set the tables and trimmed the lush gardens skirting the main house. Horses and carriages were draped in family colors. Just a half century before, Petit Anse Island had been virtually untouched, a primitive wilderness. But in that short time, the island, mostly during Avery's control, had been tamed and transformed into a model farming community with roads, mansions and huts--and customers in all parts of the world.
With that type of metamorphosis possible, the prospects in southern Louisiana for families like the Averys, even with war on the horizon, seemed boundless. He had never farmed in his life; urban areas were more to his liking. And while in time he came to appreciate the value of the plantation, when he first met Mary Eliza he hadn't yet given this much thought. McIlhenny could not have imagined that in a few decades the island would be his, and he would be amassing a treasure from a product whose primary ingredient grew out of its soil.
Equally unlikely was the course that brought McIlhenny to Petit Anse. His birthplace was a tiny apartment in the town square above what is now the Square Cup Cafe, but which then housed McIlhenny's Tavern, owned by his father. Edmund's father was a swaggering Scottish immigrant with a rebellious streak. He had abducted his wife-to-be Ann Newcomer from a female seminary, where she had been sent to keep away from men like him. They married hours later, and for the next decade had children, one after another.
Though John had been a woodsman, a bartender and a carpenter, among other things, to support his instantly large family, he became a doctor. He died suddenly in after contracting a fatal disease from a patient. With his family short a breadwinner and facing financial ruin, Edmund discontinued his schooling at seventeen and went to work to help his mother care for and educate his seven younger brothers. He took a position as a messenger in one of the dozens of banks in Baltimore.
By mid, the twenty-two-year-old McIlhenny had lost his job after the nation's economic panic that year decimated Baltimore's banks. Desperate for money, McIlhenny begged his bank contacts to help him find work anywhere. Obviously, Baltimore wasn't an option anymore. McIlhenny's youthful willingness to dive into the most difficult or menial tasks and his sober, scholarly face--intensified by his thick, dark beard, itself made even more prominent by the absence of a mustache--particularly impressed the bank executives in Louisiana.
McIlhenny was hired on the spot. The crash of hadn't spared the South. The region was dependent on agriculture, especially cotton and sugar, and the rising number of unemployed around the country led to a sharp downturn in clothing and fabric sales, sending the price of cotton tumbling.
Moreover, a succession of weak British grain harvests had induced a growing foreign-exchange deficit with the United States.
To repair this imbalance, the United Kingdom restricted American imports, primarily textiles and other cotton goods. This, of course, only made cotton prices drop even further. And the South's slave economy, a bounty of cheap labor in good times, was a liability in bad times. As the economic historian George Green described it in Finance and Economic Development in the Old South , a survey of Louisiana banking in the early s, "In the South, labor was a fixed expense and excess field hands could not be laid off" to reduce output. The planter would only "shut down his plant when market prices for cotton fell so far that he could not even cover the relatively small variable costs of harvesting his crop.
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When Edmund McIlhenny, fifty years old at the end of the Civil War, and prior to the war a successful New Orleans banker, returned to Louisiana in he found that the Avery family he had married into was largely destitute. Edmund McIlhenny was a businessman, not a farmer. As a pre-war banker, he learned to market himself personally to such a degree that he became the best known and most sought after financial man in New Orleans.
What is clear, however, is that he made the right decision and that he created a business that has served his family well for four generations.
The McIlhenny product has been a high quality one from the beginning. The three-year chili paste aging process and the inability to use mechanized pickers to gather the delicate chili peppers requires that manufacturing costs, especially labor costs, be controlled as tightly as possible.
That concern led to the near recreation of the plantation system on Avery Island, a company town so complete with free shelter, medical care, schools and churches that white employees had little reason to ever leave little Avery Island.
The company has always been run by a member of the McIlhenny family and for three generations the family was blessed to have a family member ready to take on the job and to do it adequately, if not always completely well. But, as almost always happens in a closely held family business, future generations do not always see things through the eyes of its founder.
Jeffrey Rothfeder has written a well-researched history, complete with interviews of many McIlhenny family members and key employees, a history that tells the story of a fascinating family and business. The story of the McIlhenny family and its golden goose, Tabasco sauce, is one big tall tale of the South, from pre-war New Orleans and new money Easterners wooing much younger plantation Belles to a modern family living off the declining profits of a once great family business.
A third was a decorated hero of World War II. And yet for all their accomplishments, they still exaggerated even more.
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- McIlhenny's Gold: How A Louisiana Family Built The Tabasco Empire.
But it's also a story of a paternalistic plantation family that had all the complicated relationships with its poor black and white workers that characterize the history of the antebellum South. It's a history of contradictions, sometimes eschewing outdated racial customs, sometimes hewing to them. It's a story of superlatives too, the biggest and first salt mine in the US, the wealthiest and most influential Louisiana family, the purest and longest aged hot sauce, the most popular in the world. Only a few food products can say they've been on the market as long as Tabasco.
Steak Sauce, Heinz Ketchup, and few others. And through it all, that ubiquitous bottle of red sauce, the red hot sauce that is the economic predecessor of the latest trend, Sriracha. And yet it endures. After I finished the book, I sought some more recent material online about the McIlhennys and Tabasco and found a number of interesting Youtube videos. They provide a little more updated information about the company and it's sauce. I suggest finding them.
Nov 08, Bruce Thomas rated it really liked it. Great history of McIlhenney's and Tabasco Sauce history. Still family run and isolated on Avery Island, the book details the interesting social, political and business changes over the last years. Glad we took the drive around the island perimeter Christmas Edward McIlhenney had amazing 40 year run as CEO, great white father, saver of snowy egrets, creator of jungle gardens with Buddha statue, and polisher of the ultimate worker village "Tango.
Book exposes the mythical tall tales publicized by the company, but still acknowledges the success of the brand and business, particularly rising from civil war ruins and becoming successful in the post-slavery south at a time when many agricultural operations suffered. Interesting recounting of the sly maneuvering that let to their unfair ability to trademark the name Tabasco. Mar 29, Brian rated it really liked it Shelves: This hot sauce that is known by name is grown from local ingredients all found on one island in Mississippi.
From its days of muscling out competitors to the mismanagement of future generations and being saved by other members in a family battle royale this book appears to have it all.
McIlhenny's gold : how a Louisiana family built the tabasco empire
It is a quick read that tells about a story that not many people know. It is a good choice for business historians, those interested in quirky cultural history or those who just want to read some off the wall light history. Feb 19, Brian rated it liked it. When I finished reading the introductory pages of McIlhenny's Gold, which outline the company's officially promulgated background story, I mused, "That's a short and sweet story.
Now what's Rothfeder going to write about for the rest of the book? He has skillfully distilled interview upon interview int When I finished reading the introductory pages of McIlhenny's Gold, which outline the company's officially promulgated background story, I mused, "That's a short and sweet story. He has skillfully distilled interview upon interview into a concise tableau of the McIlhenny family's impact on America, the South, and its own members.
While this wasn't my fastest read ever, I did enjoy his insights and thorough explanations of the factors that have led Tabasco sauce to be the household name it is today. Oct 11, sam rated it liked it Shelves: A well-written account of the history of Tabasco brand pepper sauce and the McIlhenny family that stewards it. It tracks the famous brand from its development the idea for the sauce was stolen; the recipe was concocted primarily by the, ahem, Negros to its consolidation of power the section regarding the attempt to trademark "Tabasco" is the best part of the book to its current challenges.
Along the way we hear about the innovative and worker-friendly aspects of the company and the racist, u A well-written account of the history of Tabasco brand pepper sauce and the McIlhenny family that stewards it. Along the way we hear about the innovative and worker-friendly aspects of the company and the racist, unethical, and insular sides, too.
Dec 05, Kirk rated it it was amazing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Louisiana history. Though there are interviews with some McIlhenny family members and various Tabasco insiders, the book is written primarily from an outsider's perspective, so you don't have to worry about this being a page ad for Tabasco.
It's truly a remarkable story about a family-owned business that rose out of the ashes of the Civil War and thrives even today, largely following the same model that it has since its very incepti I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Louisiana history. It's truly a remarkable story about a family-owned business that rose out of the ashes of the Civil War and thrives even today, largely following the same model that it has since its very inception.
McIlhenny's Gold: How a Louisiana Family Built the Tabasco Empire
Well-written and a quick read. I enjoyed this book very much. I remember thinking to myself when I started it; how is he going to write an entire book about the McIlhenny family and Tabasco sauce? Rothfeder does it though and in an entertaining way. My only critique is that on almost every page I had to look up words to check their meaning.
I'm fairly well read and I do enjoy increasing my vocabulary, but sometimes I just wanted to relax and read the book. I felt sometimes that he could have used a more common word or phra I enjoyed this book very much. I felt sometimes that he could have used a more common word or phrase and it would have flowed better. Am I the only one that felt this way? Sep 05, Jennifer Bell rated it really liked it Shelves: Very interesting book about the McIlhenny's family legacy: