Mary Wait, the inventor’s wife, came up with a name for the fruit-flavored gelatin by combining the word jelly with -O, a popular suffix added to the end of a slew of food products at the time.
In 1845, Peter Cooper, inventor of the Tom Thumb locomotive, patented the first clear powdered gelatin mix. Fifty years later, in Le Roy, NY, Pearl B. Wait, a carpenter who had been manufacturing cough medicine and laxative tea in his spare time, began experimenting with Cooper’s clear gelatin, adding ingredients until he concocted a fruit flavor.
In 1899, unable to properly market his new packaged food, Wait sold his formula to Orator Frank Woodward, proprietor of the Genesee Pure Food Company. Woodward couldn’t find a market for Jell-O either until 1900, when he spent $336 to place an advertisement in Ladies’ Home Journal.
In 1902, Woodward launched the first advertising campaign for Jell-O, proclaiming it "America’s Most Famous Dessert" and introducing the charming little Jell-O Girl in 1904. By 1906, sales topped $1 million.
Gelatin, a colorless protein derived from the collagen contained in animal skin, tendons, and bone, is extracted by treating hides and bone with lime or acid. The material is then boiled, filtered, concentrated, dried, and ground into granules that dissolve in hot water and congeal into a gel when the solution cools.
As a food supplement, gelatin supplies the body with several amino acids lacking in wheat, barley, and oats.
Norman Rockwell illustrated early Jell-O advertisements and recipe books.
According to The 1993 Guinness Book of Records, the world record for the largest single amount of Jell-O is held by Paul Squire, and Geoff Ross who made a 7,700-gallon watermelon-flavored pink Jell-O in a tank supplied by Pool Fab on February 5, 1981, at Roma Street Forum in Brisbane, Australia.
In July 1950, the FBI arrested 32-year-old electrical engineer Julius Rosenberg as a spy for the Soviet Union. According to the FBI, Rosenberg had torn a Jell-O box top in half, given a piece to his brother-in-law, David Greenglass, and told him that his contact at Los Alamos would produce the other half. The contact turned out to be spy courier Harry Gold, who received atomic-energy data from Greenglass and paid him $500, allegedly giving the Soviet Union the secret of the atomic bomb. Although Rosenberg insisted on his innocence, he and his wife Ethel were sentenced to death in 1951, and after several appeals, in June 1953, the Rosenbergs became the first Americans ever executed for using Jell-O.
Every April Fool’s Day in Eugene, Oregon, the Maude Kerns Art Gallery holds the Jell-O Art Show, better known as “Jell-O-Rama,” featuring works of local artists using Jell-O as a medium.
Jell-O is the best-selling gelatin in the United States.
A box of Jell-O can be found in three out of four American pantries.
Americans eat more than 690,000 boxes of Jell-O on an average day.