21 Surprising and Fun Facts About Campbell's Soup

Campbell's Soup Can

Campbell's Soup Can by Tony Webster (CC BY)

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Campbell's Soup Can
Campbell's Soup Can by Tony Webster (CC BY)

Soup-er Nostalgic

We all know that Campbell's soups are mmm mmm good, but did you know that Chicken Noodle got its name by mistake? There's a lot of history behind a business as old as Campbell Soup Company, and some of it is fascinating. The next time you reach for an affordable can of cream of mushroom, remember that Campbell's created one of the most popular Thanksgiving dishes of all time and that it had a brief foray into the world of fashion in the 1960s. 

Related: 25 Easy Casseroles Made With Campbell's Soup

The Jos. A. Campbell Preserve Co., Camden, NJ in 1894
Wikimedia Commons

Campbell's Is 153 Years Old

You probably knew that Campbell's was old, but did you realize it was 153 years old? It was founded in 1869, but not as a soup company. It sold canned and packaged fruit and vegetables — especially tomatoes — and it wasn't until 1895 that Campbell's sold its first canned soup.

Related: Mountain Dew Moonshine and More Secret Brand Histories

Joseph A. Campbell, founder
Wikimedia Commons

Campbell Wasn't the Only Founder

Originally, the company was named Anderson & Campbell. Abraham Anderson was a commercial canner and packer, while Joseph Campbell was a wholesale fruit and vegetable vendor. Anderson left the partnership in 1876, and the company became the Joseph Campbell Preserve Company. Campbell retired from the business in 1894, before the company sold its first canned soup.

Cornell University campus

Cornell University Inspired the Label

When Campbell's created its condensed soups in 1897, the can labels were originally blue and orange. It was just a year later that they switched to the now iconic red and white color scheme, which was inspired by Cornell University's red and white uniforms. Treasurer and general manager Herberton L. Williams attended a football game, and the rest is history.

Campbell's Soup can
James Keyser / Contributor / The Chronicle Collection / Getty Images

The Logo Is Based on the Founder's Signature

The flowing script logo is rumored to be based on founder Joseph Campbell's actual signature, which definitely makes it stand out today. The bronze medallion under the logo on the label is a real one the company won for excellence in 1900 at the Paris Exposition, a world's fair that attracted 50 million people.

Suffragist Campell'S Soup Kid
Ken Florey Suffrage Collection/Gado / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images

The Campbell's Soup Kids Are 118 Years Old

The adorable, chubby Campbell Kids were created in 1904 by Grace Dayton, a children's book illustrator. She happened to be the wife of a man who worked in the company's advertising departments, and she added the kids to one of his layouts. They first appeared on a series of streetcar advertisements, and since then, they've appeared in all kinds of roles in various ads and commercials.

Campbell's soup ad, published in The Ladies Home Journal, 1923
Wikimedia Commons

It Invented Condensed Soup

Condensed soup is a staple of Campbell's now, but it wasn't always. It was invented in 1897 — 28 years after the company was founded. The company's chemist (and future company president), John T. Dorrance, developed the idea of condensed soup while working in the food industry in Europe. His goal was to make things more convenient for the restaurant industry, but what he really did was revolutionize home cooking. The first cans of condensed soup sold for 10 cents.

Related: 25 Recipes That Transform Canned Soup Into a Meal

Three ripe tomatoes on green branch.

It Invested in Agriculture Early On

Once Dorrance became president of the company, he recognized that canning soup year round meant he needed a reliable source of the best produce he could find. That meant working with agricultural researchers and devoting money to research in the field. Dorrance and his wife hosted annual meetings with farmers at the company's research farm in the 1910s and 1920s, and hired a chief agricultural expert to help farmers increase their yields.

Early trade card for the company, prior to 1900
Wikimedia Commons

Franco-American Was Campbell's First Acquisition…

…but it certainly wasn't the last. By the time Campbell's acquired Franco-American in 1915, it was already 29 years old and was known for canned soup and pasta. Today, the Campbell Soup Company is one of the largest processed foods companies in the U.S. with $8.5 billion in net sales annually and over 14,000 employees. It includes brands like Swanson, Prego, SpaghettiOs, Pepperidge Farm, and Jay's.

Campbells Chicken Noodle Soup

"Chicken Noodle" Soup Is a Mistake

The "M'm! M'm! Good!" jingle began as a radio ad way back in 1931. Only a few years later, a radio announcer flubbed one of the company's ads and Chicken Noodle soup was born. It was originally called Noodle with Chicken, but the announcer mixed up the words, resulting in Chicken Noodle. The name just stuck, and so did the well-known jingle.

beefsteak tomato soup

It Resurrected a Century-Old Tomato Soup Recipe

In 2016, the company discovered a 1915 recipe for its beefsteak tomato soup. They decided to use that recipe for a limited run of 10,000 cans of soup, which were sold at some Cracker Barrel locations in the Northeast. Figuring out the antiquated measurements and cooking techniques took a bit of sleuthing, and asking around with retired employees. Eventually they got it right, though they had to cut the amount of salt in the original recipe.

Campbell's low sodium soup

They Cut Salt, but Customers Didn't Like It

Back in 2010, Campbell's reformulated over half its canned soups in order to cut the sodium levels by up to 45% in an effort to make a more heart-healthy product. But people hated the new soups, and sales slumped. Just a year later, the company announced that they were increasing the sodium levels in many of the soups, though not quite back as high as they had been. It was a happy inbetween and customers got back on board.

Traditional Green Bean Casserole

A Campbell's Employee Invented Green Bean Casserole

One of the first full-time employees of Campbell's home economics department — now known as the test kitchen — invented the beloved casserole in 1955. Dorcas Reilly called it Green Bean Bake, and the six-ingredient recipe included only things that most housewives at the time would have in their pantry. Reilly, who passed away in 2018, said she was shocked and proud by how popular her recipe had become

Related: 28 Delicious Dump-and-Bake Casseroles That Can Be Prepared in Minutes

Thanksgiving table with turkey and sides

Green Bean Casserole Wasn't a Holiday Recipe

Reilly had developed the recipe as a quick and easy side dish for any day of the year, something that people could prepare without much preparation. It didn't take off as a holiday dish until the 1960s when the company began printing the recipe on cream of mushroom soup labels. Now, the company estimates that it's served at 20 million Thanksgiving dinners each year, leading to 50% of the company's cream of mushroom soup sales occurring November through January. 

Related: 25 Betty Crocker-Era Holiday Recipes That We Secretly Love

National Inventors Hall of Fame IMG_5481
National Inventors Hall of Fame IMG_5481 by OZinOHFollow (CC BY-NC)

The Original Green Bean Casserole Recipe Is in a Museum

Reilly's original recipe card is located in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Ohio, the same place Edison's lightbulb is on display. On the card, you can see it took nine tries to get the recipe exactly right, attempted between April and October of 1955. At various points, the recipe used frozen green beans, celery salt, worcestershire sauce, and even ham. Today, those are some of the ingredients that home cooks like to modify the classic recipe with.

Related: Jell-O Salad and Other Old-School Summer Recipes We Secretly Love

Wide Shot of Tomato Soup Cake
Wide Shot of Tomato Soup Cake by Isabelle Boucher (CC BY-NC-ND)

Campbell's Soup isn't Just For Casseroles

Sure, there's always some cream of mushroom soup in the pantry for an old-school casserole, but Campbell's tomato soup has a more surprising use: cake. It was probably created by an ingenious baker during the Great Depression when ingredients were in short supply, and by the 1960s it was super popular. It's usually in the form of a spice cake, and the tomato soup gives it moisture and a deep reddish hue. You can try baking Campbell's own version of this vintage recipe yourself.

Related: 27 Retro Dishes Guaranteed to Class Up Your Holiday Dinner

campbell's soup
campbell's soup by brando (CC BY)

The Soup Cans Became a Pop Art Icon

Andy Warhol, the Pop Art icon, created "Campbell's Soup Cans" in 1962. Arguably his most famous work and what launched his career, it was made up of 32 canvases each painted with one can of Campbell's soup, one for each type of soup Campbell's sold at the time. Warhol was making a statement about consumerism and mass media with the work, but he also drank Campbell's soup for lunch every day for 20 years.

The Souper Dress (02)
The Souper Dress (02) by Thomas Cizauskas (CC BY-NC-ND)

Campbell's Made Its Own Pop Art

In response to the popularity of Warhol's soup cans, Campbell's decided to make a soup can-inspired creation of its own. In 1967, it released the Souper Dress, a mini paper dress with a repeating red and white soup can pattern. To get it, you had to send $1 and two Campbell's vegetable soup labels to the company. It's become a Pop Art classic in its own right, and the disposable dress is displayed in many museums, including The Met.

Campbell's Stout Hearted Soups

There Was Almost a Campbell's Fork Soup

When the company was developing a new line of hearty soups in the 1960s, it was considering a number of names. They were first sold under the name Campbell's Stout Hearted Soups, but that didn't stick. Another name being considered was Campbell's Fork Soups, because in commercials it was described as "so chunky you’ll be tempted to eat it with a fork." You can probably figure that the name the company eventually settled on was Campbell's Chunky Soups. 

Related: Foods We Miss From the '70s and '80s

Campbell's K Cups

It Tried to Make K-Cup Soup a Thing

Back in 2013 at the height of the Keurig craze, Campbell's partnered with the coffee maker company to make K-Cup, single-serve versions of soup. Does making chicken noodle from the same machine as your daily French roast sound horrifying to you? You're not alone, because the K-Cup soups were quickly discontinued after dismal sales. Maybe some college students appreciated it, but even that’s unlikely.

Male gay couple with adopted baby girl at home - Two handsome dads feed the baby girl on kitchen - Male babysitters - Lgbt family at home - Diversity concept
Davide Zanin/istockphoto

One of its Commercials Got Slammed

In 2015, Campbell's released a line of Star Wars-themed soups, and naturally had a commercial promoting it. In the ad, two dads feed their young son the soup in a heartwarming family moment typically seen in commercials. But because it featured two dads, right wing anti-gay groups were up in arms and accused the company of "attempting to desensitize viewers" instead of, you know, showing a family enjoying its product.

Delicious Homemade Cherry Pie

It Used to Make Pie Filling

When the company was still called the Joseph Campbell Preserve Company, it made canned pie filling. Standard Pie Filler included a variety of fruits, while New Year Mince Meat had dried fruit, spices, and beef suet. There's no pie filling available today from the brand, but you can still make pies with Campbell's soups if you're so inclined, like raspberry cheese pie with condensed cheddar cheese soup or raisin pie with tomato soup and spices.