FOOD: Transforming the American Table

Automating and Innovating

Food processors large and small focused on increasing production and cost-efficiency, automating key aspects of their operations. Some firms, previously ramped up for World War II production, continued to grow their processing capacity to match the postwar population and economic boom. Others developed innovative products and production methods that fed consumers’ insatiable appetite for the “new and improved.”

Plant interior, about 2000

Plant interior, about 2000

Fast-moving, precision machinery enabled large factories to make uniform foodstuffs that were easily boxed, shipped, stocked, and sold. By 2000, centralized, high-volume production was the norm.

Marvel of efficiency, 1962

Marvel of efficiency, 1962

LIFE magazine celebrated the ten-lane hot dog “expressway” at the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison, Wisconsin.

Automated Donuts

Krispy Kreme of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had been making doughnuts since 1937. In the 1950s, as the company expanded to a small chain of stores, it sought ways to ensure a consistent and profitable product. The firm created a dry doughnut mix and developed a machine that automated the doughnut-making process. The Ring King Junior formed, fried, turned, and cooled about sixty dozen doughnuts per hour, reducing labor costs.

Ring King machine, 1950

Gift of Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation

View object record

New generations of doughnut-making and packaging equipment allowed Krispy Kreme to expand into retail sales at grocery stores and other outlets. These workers are boxing doughnuts just off the conveyor belt at a plant in Savannah, Georgia.

Scaled-up production, around 1970

Scaled-up production, around 1970

Courtesy of Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Scaled up production, about 1970

Scaled up production, about 1970

Courtesy of Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Ready-to-Eat Carrots

Engineer and inventor Joseph T. Listner was early to recognize the appeal and convenience of bagged, ready-to-eat vegetables. In 1959, he designed and built a one-of-a-kind machine that sliced raw carrots into sticks. The machine enabled a small-scale producer like Listner, Inc., in Wallington, New Jersey, to slice an estimated one million pounds of carrots in sixteen years of operation. Listner sold his bagged carrot sticks and cole slaw to stores, including the Grand Union supermarket chain.

Carrot-slicing machine in use, 1960s

Carrot-slicing machine in use, 1960s

Courtesy of Chem Listner

Carrot -stick slicer, 1959

Gift of Chem Listner

Joseph T. Listner made his slicer with components from other machines.  Although the carrots still had to be peeled by hand, the machine automatically trimmed them to uniform sticks.

View object record
Baby carrots, about 1998

Baby carrots, about 1998

Courtesy of Western Growers

In the late 1980s, vegetable processors in California sought a way to salvage imperfect carrots that would have been discarded.  They adapted industrial peelers to pare them down and marketed the results as “baby carrots.” By 2000, one-third of the fresh carrots sold in the United States were babies.

A Concentrated Success

In 1945, the National Research Corporation developed a powdered form of orange juice for the U.S. Army. After World War II, the company reconfigured the dehydration process to create a new product for the consumer market: frozen, concentrated orange juice. Packed in cans at Florida processing plants and sold nationwide, it became the postwar era’s first frozen-food success story. While canned juice was already available year-round, many consumers found the taste of frozen juice more appealing and the cost more affordable than fresh oranges.

Juice mixer, about 1956

Gift of Glenn O. Tupper

At home, consumers mixed the concentrate with water in pitchers of their own or in containers specially promoted for the purpose, like this one made by Tupperware.

View object record

Juice can, about 1955

Gift of Cory Bernat

View object record

Souvenir Orange, 1964

Bequest of Larry Zim

At the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, Minute Maid partnered with Florida’s tourism board to attract visitors and market orange juice.

View object record
Freezing the juice, about 1955

Freezing the juice, about 1955

Courtesy of State Archives of Florida

Cans of concentrated orange juice pass through a blast-freeze tunnel set to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Postcard of Minute Maid plant in Auburndale, Florida, about 1960

Postcard of Minute Maid plant in Auburndale, Florida, about 1960

Courtesy of Cory Bernat

Postcard of Minute Maid plants in Frostproof, Florida, about 1960

Postcard of Minute Maid plants in Frostproof, Florida, about 1960

Courtesy of Cory Bernat

Paradox of Plenty

Many Americans expressed excitement and pride in the numerous and sweeping changes that were transforming the food production chain. At the same time, many were increasingly concerned about issues ranging from hunger to food safety.

LIFE Magazine

LIFE Magazine

LIFE Magazine

LIFE Magazine

LIFE Magazine

LIFE Magazine

LIFE Magazine

LIFE Magazine