Heinz’s Long Lost Competitor

Curtice Brothers Preservers, Rochester, NY

Pictured here is an early twentieth century ketchup bottle produced by the Curtice Brothers Company, which was founded in 1868 in Rochester, New York. Although you have probably never heard of Curtice Brothers, their ketchup once rivaled the more well-known Heinz in the early twentieth century. The story of their descent into the recesses of popular memory is bound up with early government food safety regulations, but I’ll get to that in a moment…

The bottle itself was mouth blown and made in a two piece mold with a cup bottom, likely manufactured by the Berney-Bond Glass Company based in Pennsylvania.1 The finish (the lip of the bottle) is externally threaded so that a cap could have been screwed on it and was made using the “improved tooled finishing” method, meaning that most of the finish was created in the mold itself with just minor tooled touches to ensure that the cap would fit.2 This is evident in the seam on the finish, which nearly reaches the mouth, but you can see where the tool turned the seam.

Evidence of “improved tooled” finish

Also visible on the bottle is the maker’s seal on the shoulder reading “Curtice Brothers / Preservers / Rochester, N.Y.” within a circle. Vertical ridges line the sides of the body with an open space for the label, which would have marketed the company’s Blue Label Ketchup. An example of one of Curtice Brothers’ ads from around 1910 is shown below.

Circa 1910 ad for Blue Label Ketchup (Source: MSU Campus Archaeology Program)

The Curtice Brothers’ Blue Label Ketchup was a casualty of one of the first federal consumer protection regulations, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, a precursor to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration. This Act sought to inform and protect consumers from drugs and additives that were perceived as dangerous. One of those dangerous additives was benzoate of soda, then a common preservative in many condiments, including Curtice Brothers’ ketchup. Unfortunately for the company in the long run, Curtice Brothers refused to change their ketchup recipe as they believed benzoate of soda was necessary and posed no threat. On the other side of the argument was Heinz Company, which began producing ketchup using a different recipe that omitted benzoate of soda but sold at a higher price. Despite initial successful legal pushback (note the language of the above ad referencing the endorsement of the US government), ultimately public opinion and government regulation against the additive won out and Curtice Brothers “Blue Label Ketchup” lost its market share to Heinz.3

  1. Society for Historical Archaeology, “Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes.” https://sha.org/bottle/food.htm#Catsup
  2. Soceity for Historical Archaeology, “Bottle Finishes & Closures.” https://sha.org/bottle/finishes.htm
  3. Smith, Adam F., 1996. Pure Ketchup: A History of America’s National Condiment, with Recipes. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

3 thoughts on “Heinz’s Long Lost Competitor

  1. HI all, Just found one of these diving yesterday, thanks for the great article above, !! it always fun to be able to find answers on these little treasures. my bottle seems a bit more modern than the one pictured, in that the neck was not added separately, The same seam runs all of the way up the bottle, but looks simmilar in every other way. part of the stopper was abviously cork, and that remains in the bottom of the bottle. if any one has any idea of the date range i would love to know. cheers.

  2. According to the book Pure Ketchup by Andrew F. Smith, Curtice Brothers merged with Burns-Axton in the 1950s and became Curtice-Burns. Curtice-Burns was supplied by the Pro-Fac co-op (which in turn was owned by Agway) in the 60s. Pro-Fac became an independent company and took ownership of Curtice-Burns in 1994 after Agway sold it’s shares. Then Curtice-Burns became Agrilink, and bought Dean Foods, Birds Eye, and Veg-All, and ultimately changed their name to Birds Eye foods. Pro-Fac sold Birds Eye Foods to Pinnacle Foods in 2009. https://rbj.net/2010/03/26/pro-fac-plans-to-disband/

  3. Hello my name is Ian and I just found a Curtice Brothers ketchup bottle a value village. I got it because my grandma and grandpa where from Upstate New York. I’m just wonder how old the bottle is? It even has the cap!
    Any information would be vary helpful.
    Thank you.

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