For National Soup Month: 3 Facts about Campbell’s Soup

Introduction: In this article – to celebrate January being National Soup Month – Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to learn more about the varieties of canned soup Campbell’s has made over the years. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

Canned soup is a familiar pantry staple. Besides heating and enjoying it by itself, canned soup can be an ingredient for other recipes, or even “doctored” to make the soup more flavorful, as in the case of tomato soup with shredded cheddar cheese. January is National Soup Month, so let’s take a look at some facts about a canned soup familiar to most Americans: Campbell’s Soup.

They Didn’t Start Out Making Soup

Campbell’s was founded in 1869 when fruit merchant Joseph Campbell and icebox manufacturer Abraham Anderson produced tomatoes, jellies, and other canned foods. It wasn’t until 1895 that they sold their first can of soup, a ready-to-eat Beefsteak Tomato soup. (1) In 1897 Dr. John T. Dorrance, nephew of the then-president of Campbell’s, invented the formula for condensed soup and created five varieties including tomato soup. (2)

Illustration: the Joseph Campbell Preserve Co., Camden, New Jersey, 1894
Illustration: the Joseph Campbell Preserve Co., Camden, New Jersey, 1894. Credit: A. H. Markley (engraver); Wikimedia Commons.

Even after Campbell’s became known for soup, they still produced other products including Campbell’s Pork and Beans. In addition, they started acquiring other food brands; their first was Franco-American in 1915. Today, Campbell’s not only produces soups, broths, and sauces, but through their acquisitions they sell organic foods and snacks. (3)

An ad for Campbell's pork and beans, Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 27 April 1958
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 April 1958, page 240

Did Your Ancestors Eat Canned Soup?

It’s very likely that your American ancestors ate Campbell’s soup or were at least familiar with it. Newspaper advertisements for the soup can be found as early as 1898. More recent generations have used the familiar brand for everything from a meal to combining it with other ingredients to make a casserole (we’ve talked about Green Bean Casserole in a previous article; see Remembering the Inventor of the Green Bean Casserole: Dorcas Reilly).

Newspapers didn’t just feature Campbell’s in advertisements. Readers in 1921 could also take a “tour” of the company. This newspaper story provides the reader with a tour of the Campbell’s factory that reveals how the company functioned and how the soups were made. My favorite part of the article is some of the suggestions for how to eat or serve soup: “It is an unimaginative woman who looks at her stock of canned soups and sees no possibilities except to ‘add water and serve’ at dinner time.”

The article provides a suggestion for serving Campbell’s Mock Turtle Soup: “…add a slice of lemon, a dash of wine, or grape juice and the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, and no one will think of a can in its presence.”

The author goes on to say that she also surprisingly enjoys soup for breakfast, claiming that:

“But really a hot cup of clear consomme with a bit of toast and fruit is a mild stimulant – fine for those who fear coffee and who do not want so heavy a beverage as chocolate.”

An article about the Campbell's Soup Company, New-York Daily Tribune newspaper article 30 October 1921
New-York Daily Tribune (New York, New York), 30 October 1921, page 64

Soups Come and Go

In 1930 Campbell’s featured 21 soups in its repertoire. Today, they produce 10 types of soups (Condensed, Chunky, Healthy Request, etc.) with over 250 varieties. (4)

An ad for Campbell's soup, Kansas City Star newspaper advertisement 21 February 1930
Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 21 February 1930, page 25

What flavors of soup come to mind when you think of Campbell’s? You might respond with the name of one of their most popular soups that have stood the test of time, such as Tomato, maybe Chicken Noodle, or its close cousin, Chicken and Rice. But there are many other flavors to consider, some of which are no longer produced. Consider this 1936 newspaper advertisement from the Evening Star which lists 16 “more famous” soups along with their descriptions. Some of these soups are still popular while others have been discontinued long ago. Those 16 famous soups included: Cream of Mushroom, Beef, Bouillon, Celery, Chicken-Gumbo, Clam Chowder, Consomme, Mock Turtle, Asparagus, Vegetable, Vegetable-Beef, Noodle with Chicken, Ox Tail, Pea, Pepper Pot, and Scotch Broth.

An ad for Campbell's soup, Evening Star newspaper advertisement 2 November 1936
Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 2 November 1936, page 13

You may be wondering about Mock Turtle Soup. Turtle Soup was very popular with our Victorian ancestors and “mock turtle” was a version of that, but made with meat from calf’s heads. Campbell’s Mock Turtle Soup “closely resembles the famous and expensive Green Turtle Soup (thick). Beef broth, tomatoes, celery, herbs, toothsome pieces of meat richly blended with sherry.”

Flavors and their popularity come and go with each successive generation. Tastes change and sales dictate what is sold. Searching GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for Campbell’s advertisements reveals some interesting flavor combinations, including this 1959 newspaper advertisement for Campbell’s fruit soups. Yes, Campbell’s produced fruit soups that were eaten hot or cold. Flavors were: Orange Fruit Soup with Apricots and White Grapes, Prune Fruit Soup with Oranges and Apricots, and Black Cherry Fruit Soup with Burgundy. Suggestions for serving the Prune Fruit Soup include eating it at breakfast over cereal.

An ad for Campbell's soup, Seattle Daily Times newspaper advertisement 13 January 1959
Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 13 January 1959, page 42

Mmmm…Mmmm…Good!

Canned soup is almost as American as apple pie and has been part of our family’s food history in the United States for over 100 years. Growing up in my family, the opening of a can of Chicken Noodle Soup was always one of the first signs that someone in the family was sick and needed the “healing properties” that magically came from Chicken Noodle Soup.

Do you have any special soup memories? Do you have family recipes that use soup for casseroles or other dishes? Let us know in the comments section below.

___________________

(1) Shea, Martha E, and Mike Mathis. Campbell Soup Company. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia, 2002.
(2) “Our History,” Campbell’s (https://www.campbells.com/campbell-history/: accessed 18 December 2018).
(3) Ibid.
(4) “How Many Different Types of Campbell’s Soups Are There?” Reference (https://www.reference.com/food/many-different-types-campbell-s-soups-de9d826d63d66c59: accessed 18 December 2018).

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10 thoughts on “For National Soup Month: 3 Facts about Campbell’s Soup

  1. My favorite memories are of Sunday lunch with tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I don’t buy canned soup anymore, cooking soup from scratch instead, but I’m still trying to duplicate Campbell’s tomato soup, which in my mind is how tomato soup should taste.

    1. Peggy,

      I LOVE tomato soup and grilled cheese. It’s one of my favorites as well. I think that’s one of those meals that most of us have a childhood memory of.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my article. Gena

  2. I use Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup with added other ingredients as a sauce for chicken crepes. My mother and I invented the recipe.

    1. Margaret, Thanks for sharing that. I know I’ve seen many recipes using Cream of Mushroom soup. It seems to be one of those soups that can be used in a variety of ways.–Gena

  3. Great article Gena! I never knew about the fruit, that was interesting to read. I remember my mom making me chicken and rice soup when I was sick, it was my favorite. When the store was sold out of it, she would buy the chicken soup and add in cooked rice so as not to disappoint her sick kid. I also remember her adding rice to the tomato soup for me because I liked it that way. Tomato rice soup and a grilled cheese sandwich would be waiting for my brother and me when we came in from playing in the snow to help warm us up.

    1. Thanks Lori! I guess rice goes with everything so why not tomato soup? That seems to go with a new marketing angle that Campbell’s has used encouraging people to “customize” their tomato soup.

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my article!–Gena

  4. I remember always having the chicken noodle soup on sick days. We would have tomato soup with grill cheese in cold weather. Mom made pot roast – a favorite in our family- with mushroom soup mixed with an envelope of dried onion soup over a a 7- bone chuck roast and bake for a couple hours. I still make this but I add carrots, onions and potatoes with a little water so the veggies don’t dry out. Sometimes I add parsnips. Mom also used tomato soup for meatloaf. She would use ground beef, dried bread torn up, tomato soup and poultry seasoning. I have added garlic salt or powder to this. Some additions can be mushrooms, onions, peppers or cheese either on top or in the middle. We also used the mushroom soup in Tuna Noodle Casserole or Tuna PeaWiggle as my husband calls it. Mushroom soup, tuna, cooked noodles, and peas, milk if needed.

    1. Jean, Thank you for sharing those family recipes! My mom made the same Tuna Noodle Casserole! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my article. –Gena

  5. I grew up in South Jersey. Every summer trucks loaded with tomatoes drove near our home on their way to Camden. Sometimes they lost a few baskets while driving around the nearby traffic circles. One time my mother asked a friend who worked at Campbell’s: “How many tomatoes are in one can of soup?” His reply: “Probably get eight cans from one tomato.”

    1. Eight cans from one tomato?! Wow, I never really gave much thought to the ratio but that would be interesting. I bet that friend had some stories to tell about Campbell’s. Thanks for sharing that one, Mary Anne. –Gena

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