Gebhardt’s Chili Powder Co.
This week’s post is about a former San Antonio institution- Gebhardt’s Mexican Foods Company. In 1896, Willie Gebhardt established Gebhardt’s Eagle Brand Chili Powder Company. For nearly a century, the company produced chili powder, canned chili, canned tamales, and many other Tex-Mex food products in San Antonio – first as an independent company, and then as a subsidiary of the Beatrice Food Company. Gebhardt’s is now owned by ConAgra Foods, and though the San Antonio plant has closed, a few of the products developed there are still available in stores. You can check what products are available in your local stores on the Conagra Web site: http://www.conagrafoods.com/consumer/brands/index.jsp.
When Gebhardt first started selling chili powder, his market was limited by the fact that Americans outside Texas did not know how to cook with it. In 1908, the company published Mexican Cooking, one of the first Tex-Mex cookbooks. This cookbook introduced Americans to what would become one of the most popular cuisines in the country and promoted the use of Gebhardt’s chili powder above similar products. The book warns that “The success of Gebhardt’s Chili Powder has naturally brought forth a host of spurious chili powders or compounds of, which the public should be aware…” and goes on to say that Gebhardt’s is the only product that delivers “That Real Mexican Tang.”*
Gebhardt’s used this same technique to promote later products like canned chili, canned beans and deviled chili meat. While the booklets describe the recipes as “real” Mexican cooking, it’s not likely that Mexicans would recognize much of the contents. The recipes include “Piquant Deviled Eggs,” “Hominy and Chili Scramble,” and “Gebhardt’s Beans in Tomato Cups.”
UTSA Libraries Special Collections acquired the Gebhardt’s Mexican Foods Company’s records in 1989 and is in the process of digitizing the collection and making it available through our digital portal. Readers of Top Shelf, UTSA Libraries Special Collections blog, have already been introduced to the collection’s photographs. Now, images of over 100 labels from Gebhardt’s products are also available at digital.utsa.edu.