22 January 2016

Mr Waite and Mr Rose - at your service
Ben le Vay uncovers the secret histories behind everyday items in his new book*

Nescafe Blend 37, which urban myth links to a dramatic Le Mans race involving the 37th lap in 1937 was, in fact, less romantically merely the 37th blend tried.  

A 99 ice cream (one with a chocolate Flake stuck into an ice-cream cone) was - equally disappointingly - called after the specification for the Flake, which had to be 99mm long.  After decimalisation in 1971, unscrupulous trades pretended to UK tourists that this was the price - about four times the correct one.

Image result for russell hobbs kettle 1956

There was no Russell Hobbs who invented the electric kettles of that name.  But there was a William Morris Russell, born 1920 (named after the Arts & Crafts doyen, not the car inventor also called William Morris), and a Peter Hobbs, born 1916 who, after the war service together made the first automatically cutting-off kettle, the K1, in 1956.

In the Eighties, British consumers believed Japanese and German products to be superior, not totally without reason, as British manufacturing was going through a bad patch.  One of the most popular electronics brands was Matsui, accompanied by a rising sun logo.  

It was the own brand for Dixons and about as Japanese as Yorkshire pudding. Equally Moben kitchen s were as German as Cornish pasties, but at least they sounded German.  

Image result for dixons 1937
Dixons, by the way was founded by C Kalms and M Mindel, who wanted to put their names above their first shop in Southend in 1937.  There was space for only six letters, so they grabbed a phone book and chose the first six-letter name they found.  Retailers didn't wish to sound German in 1937.

Image result for picture of frisbee 1950sThrowing a Frisbee should technically be known as throwing a Morrison.  Walter Morrison was already thinking of making saucer-shaped objects for people to throw and catch when he saw Yale University students playing with thin, flat pie dishes made by baker William Russell Frisbee and stamped with that name.  They would shout 'Frisbee!' as they threw one.  

However, they became dented and the shape was not as aerodynamic as Morrison's models.  With his wartime experience of plastics he moulded a shape that would stay aloft longer than nay ball and named it Frisbee.  The first plastic was brittle and shattered, a flexible one was fond.  They flex out of the shops.......... (see: http://www.wfdf.org/history-stats/history-of-fyling-disc/4-history-of-the-frisbee)

Mr Wallace Waite and Mr Arthur Rose founded a grocery business called Waitrose; Asda came from Associated Dairies.  (http://www.asdasupplier.com/about-us/about-asda and  https://www.waitrose.com/home/about_waitrose/corporate_information/company_history.html)

Image result for avro wartime plane name on side of aircraftThe great aviation firm Avro, which built the war-winning Avro Lancaster bombers among many other eminent civil and military types, resulted from an error:  the owner's name 'A V Roe' was being painted on a hanger at Brooklands and the painter didn't leave enough room for the 'E'.

Image result for ice cream sundaeIce-cream sundae - the celebrated dessert was invented on a Sunday, hence the name, because flavoured soda drinks were not served on the Sabbath to respectable people.  Lacking anything enticing to offer, drug store owner Edward Berner of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, invented the ice-cream sundae one day in 1881 when he served a customer ice cream topped with the chocolate syrup that was used to ice-cream soda drinks.

Avocado is derived ultimately from the Aztec word ahuacatl meaning 'testicle', which the fruit resembled.

Image result for heinz 57Heinz and Kodak: Heinz never had the '57 varieties' of its slogan: Henry Heinz just liekd the shape of a sloping 67.  The firm sold well over 1,000 varieties.  Similarly, George Eastman thought the character K attractive, so he put one at end end of 'oda', to get the made-up word Kodak.

Chinese fortune cookies were not Chinese but Californian, created by local Chinese in the Gold Rush of 1849.  When they were introduced into China in the Nineties they were sold as 'Genuine American Fortune Cookies'.

Maltesers:  the name derives from malt, the food, not Malta, the island (never thought it did!).  They were invented in 1936, briefly called Energy Balls and marketed also as a 'portable malted drink in a box'.  Five billion a year are now eaten.

Image result for liquorice allsorts
Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts: in 1899 the firm's sales rep Charlie Thompson dropped a try of samples, mixing up the various sweets.  He scrambled to rearrange them, and his client thought the mixture better.

Avon ladies: American salesman D H McConnell was trying to sell encyclopedias and the works of Shakespeare door-to-door.  He started giving away perfume to help pique the interest of women, and soon realised he might as well forget the books. Except in one respect - he named the company out of his admiration for Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon.

Garibaldi: Nicknamed 'the squashed fly biscuit', the Garibaldi was created to mark the visit of Italian liberation hero Giuseppe Garibaldi to London in 1964.  Garibaldi the man ousted the Bourbon dynasty, as did the biscuit. (Biscuit, by the way, is from the French bis cuit, twice cooked.)

Image result for 3mScotch tape derives from the notion of 'stingy' Scots.  The masking tape made by Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing (which gave us 3M), was used by US car manufacturers, who demanded a price cut, so a version of the tape with no glue down the middle was made.  This enraged the car makers, one of whom said; 'Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses and tell them to put adhesive all over the tape.'  They did.  The tape stuck: so did the name.

Image result for ikeaHaribo, the German chewy sweet brand was founded in 1920 by HAns RIegel in BOnn.  Other companies whose founders' identities are thinly disguised in their names include Alan Michael Sugar TRADing (Amstrad); GARy Burrell and Dr MIN Kao (Garmin, SatNav brand); Ingar Kamprade of Elmtaryd Agunnaryd (IKEA); and Harold MATT Matson and ELliot Handler (Mattell).

*The Secretary History of Everyday Stuff: Astounding, Fascinating or Remarkable Facts about Your Daily Life by Benedict le Vay.

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