Cutting the mustard
News this week that spices firm McCormick & Co. had agreed to buy Reckitt Benckiser Group’s food business for $4.2 billion brought to mind a onetime local firm many longtimers here remember well.
The Reckitt’s unit portfolio includes an array of products, but one, French’s mustard, rose to fame here.
The Frenches came from New York City in 1883 and bought a Fairport flour mill, which burned down the following year. The family then relocated the flour mill to Rochester. At this time in history, mustard came in a very hot powder form. The Frenches were responsible for refining and taming the hot, European-style mustard to cater to the American palate.
The brothers worked on their recipes and in 1904 created a milder, ready-to-eat condiment called French’s Cream Salad Mustard.
They showcased this creamy mustard at the St. Louis World’s Fair that year, the same summer the hot dog came onto the scene. The two have been paired ever since.
The company built factories in Rochester in 1912 and in 1922. It employed over 1,000 workers at its peak in 1966, making it the area’s 15th-largest industrial firm.
But alas, the French brothers—George and Francis—did not have any male heirs to take over their company operations. In 1926, they sold it for $3.8 million to the firm now known as Reckitt.
French’s manufacturing operations moved out of Rochester in 1972; the company’s headquarters followed 15 years later, relocating to New Jersey.
The Loop through the years
This year the RBJ marks its 30th anniversary. As part of looking at that milestone, we came across a somewhat dingy green binder that dates back to the first version of this column, the Inner Loop. The binder—years before the web and our digital archive—starts with the Oct. 9, 1992 column. It was compiled then by another Mike—Mike Cosgrove.
The column continued, with different authors, until March 11, 1997. It was relaunched Feb. 3, 2006 and has continued since then. Its return to newsprint began with an item titled “Cash in, bow out.” The segment looked at Tom Golisano’s decision not to run for governor:
“So much for the adage: ‘Follow the money.’ Conventional wisdom pointed to a recent spate of stock sales by Paychex founder and chairman Tom Golisano as evidence of his plan to run for governor. In late December, the billionaire sold 250,600 shares of stock, worth some $9.75 million, SEC documents show. Political pundits and media saw the sales as evidence the self-funded politician was ready to hit the campaign trail again. He proved them all wrong on Tuesday when he declined to run.”
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