C is for Canajoharie’s Arkell Museum, featuring Beech-Nut

The over-a-century long relationship between Canajoharie and Beech Nut is captured at the Arkell Museum.

beechnut ad.RockwellThe food manufacturer Beech-Nut has roots going back to 1891, “to the Mohawk Valley town of Canajoharie, New York,” about an hour northwest of Albany. A number of men, including Bartlett Arkell, “founded The Imperial Packing Co. with the production of Beech-Nut ham.”

The company was incorporated as the Beech-Nut Packing Company in 1899. In 1900, the company’s sales were $200,000. Engineers from Beech-Nut patented the first vacuum jar with a design that included a gasket and top that could remain intact in transit and became a standard of the industry.

During the first 25 years of the 20th century, the company expanded its product line into peanut butter, jam, pork and beans, ketchup, chili sauce, mustard, spaghetti, macaroni, marmalade, caramel, fruit drops, mints, chewing gum, and coffee.

While the former Canajoharie plant was sold by Beech Nut in late 2013, the over-a-century long relationship is captured at the Arkell Museum, which my family visited in August 2014. Because we got a pass from the Albany Public Library, the museum stop was free. It is located in the building of the Canajoharie Library.

Check out just a piece of the Beech-Nut collection. Like many businesses in the first half of the 20th century, there was a circus motif with some of the advertising. In the 1930s Beech-Nut Gum and Candies toured the country with six miniature circuses housed in custom-built buses. “Illustrator Frederic Stanley created artwork which featured Rosie Rieffenach, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey bareback rider.”

Other name artists, including Norman Rockwell (graphic above), also contributed to the advertisements. He has captured a real phenomenon of the period, the Beech-Nut gum girls, who would give away sticks in order to entice folks to buy packs of gum.

The museum is well regarded as a hidden jewel. Read this 2008 Metroland article and this review from the Caldwell Gallery and this piece from the AIArchitect.

ABC Wednesday – Round 16

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

30 thoughts on “C is for Canajoharie’s Arkell Museum, featuring Beech-Nut”

  1. Beech Nut is not familiar to me, but the Mohawk Valley is, where Beech Nut originated and where my paternal ancestors lived before coming to Canada during the American Revolution.

  2. Oh how neat!!! I’m not usually up in that area, but oh it’s tempting and something to store away for ‘that rainy day’.

  3. Hello, on your Linkorama page the link to this site is not working. Well all the others links work but I want the link to this site to work also! Probably just my computer.

  4. I thought I had been all over NY state, then you post about Canajoharie and I realize there is somewhere I haven’t been. Thanks for the history!

  5. This reminds me of the beginning years in the US – because I am from Europe my standards for “art” are very high, but Norman Rockwell I could not resist – his skills are phenomenal!

  6. I love those old industrialist who left their art to the nation. The museum sounds a fascinating place and living up to his quest to bring “art to the masses”. Now the only thing I’m wondering is how to pronounce the town name.

  7. Roger, I do wish we could prevent ABC participants from using their entry to promote sales of their own products. I’m afraid it will kill the fun if it becomes commercial. What do you think? I tend not to comment on those entries that do this.
    Could have used this COMMENT for the letter C — Critique of Commercialism.

  8. Roger, the Beech Nut Girl reminds me of the new phenomenon of Cigarette Girls in places like Vietnam. Their job is to give away free cigs to kids to get them hooked. A far cry from the old-time Cigarette Girls, with their trays and calls of, “Cigars! Cigarettes! Sen-Sen!” (No, I don’t remember them personally, but I know that stuff from old movies.) amy

  9. Beech Nut gum this we do not know in the Netherlands. I’m a gum lover, I eat it almost every day 😉
    I wish you a nice weekend

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.