Store-Bought Chili – A Short History
Willie Gebhardt, originally of New Braunfels, Texas and later of San Antonio, produced the first canned chili in 1908. Gebhardt also invented the first commercial chili powder in 1896. Very little else is known about Mr. Gebhardt; he apparently sold out to a brother-in-law and disappeared from the scene. His chili powder nonetheless remains popular today. I can remember my Grandmother using that brand of chili powder when I was a kid.
Another popular chili brand is Wolf Brand chili, which was founded by rancher Lyman Davis near Corsicana, Texas, in 1885. In the 1880s, in partnership with an experienced range cook, he began producing heavily-spiced chili based on chunks of lean beef and including rendered beef suet, which he sold by the pot to local cafés. In 1921, Davis began canning his product in the back of his meat market and named it for his pet wolf, “Kaiser Bill”. Wolf Brand canned chili was a favorite of Will Rogers, who always took along a case of it when traveling and entertaining in chili-less regions of the world.
Both the Gebhardt and Wolf brands are now owned by ConAgra Foods, Inc. In the UK, the most popular brand of canned chili is sold by Stagg, a division of Hormel foods.
Another method of marketing commercial chili in the days before widespread home refrigerators was “brick chili”, in the production of which nearly all of the moisture was squeezed out to leave a solid substance roughly the size and shape of a half-brick.