Finding Connections

Research can be addictive, especially if you’re easily distracted (as I frequently am.) One fact leads to another fact and before you know it, you’ve slid down the rabbit hole into some alternate universe. You are no longer focused on the writing task at hand, but instead are chasing down random, albeit interesting, information about something completely unrelated to your topic.

A good example is this little gem I discovered while researching Frontiers of Healing: A History of Medicine in Oklahoma County. The ad appeared in a 1908 issue of the Edmond Enterprise – just a year after Oklahoma statehood.

uneeda biscuit

The name made me laugh and I definitely needed that, slogging through hundreds of newspaper articles for mention of local physicians. Through the wonders of technology, I ended up learning that Uneeda Biscuit ended up being Nabisco. And since I LOVE Wheat Thins, the century old ad indirectly worked on me, and I found myself nibbling on cheese and crackers during my writing break.

I was surprised to later learn that this actually had a tie-in to the medical book project. In the 1890s, bakeries and general stores kept crackers in an open barrel. Customers would scoop what they wanted out of this “cracker barrel” and be on their way. In 1893, Robert Koch discovered improving sanitary conditions could stop cholera epidemics, namely by keeping sewers separate from drinking water.

The National Biscuit Company saw an opportunity when this sanitation movement spread across the United States. They developed packaged biscuits in sanitary packages. The “in-er seal” packaging served the practical purpose of keeping the crackers fresh, but the marketing definitely conveyed the underlying health message with the words “Out of the Cracker Barrel” or “Sold only in packages” appearing in many of the advertisements.


These murals were part of the first million dollar advertising campaign in the United States, and the first campaign promoting a pre-packaged food. The National Biscuit Company eventually became Nabisco and is now a part of Kraft Foods, makers of just about every pre-packaged food you can imagine. Prepackaged foods are frequently cited as a major component in our national obesity problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the estimated annual medical cost for obesity in the United States is $147 billion.

When I saw the ad, I had no idea of its actual significance in American medical history.

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