Edmund McIlhenny (1815 - 1890)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Hagerstown, Washington, MD
Death: Died in Avery Island, Iberia Parish, LA
Occupation: Banker, Farmer
Managed by: Steven Kelley
Last Updated:

About Edmund McIlhenny

He founded, in 1868, at Avery Island, LA, the McIlhenny Company, producer of Tabasco® brand products.

Family tradition holds that he bought some hot pepper seeds from a traveler from Central America. McIlhenny planted the seeds on Avery Island, experimenting with pepper sauces until he found one that he liked.

Tabasco sauce was invented in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, a Maryland-born former banker who had moved to Louisiana around 1840. On his death in 1890, McIlhenny was succeeded by his eldest son, John Avery McIlhenny, who expanded and modernized the business, but resigned after a few years to join Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders volunteer cavalry regiment.

On John's departure, brother Edward Avery McIlhenny, a self-taught naturalist fresh from an arctic adventure, assumed control of the company, running it from 1898 to his death in 1949. Like his brother, Edward focused on expansion and modernization, as did war hero Walter S. McIlhenny, who, after serving in the U.S. Marines at Guadalcanal and elsewhere, oversaw the company until his death in 1985.

Today, McIlhenny Company remains a privately held business presided over by a member of the McIlhenny family.

The McIlhenny Company is now in its fifth generation as a family-run business. All of the 145 shareholders either inherited their stock or were given it from another living family member.

Edmund McIlhenny (1815-1890), was born and raised in Hagerstown, Maryland. His father was the owner of McIlhenny’s Tavern which sat on the northwest corner of the public square. The elder McIlhenny was also the mayor of Hagerstown. In 1841, allegedly after the death of his father and at the age of 26, Edmund moved to New Orleans.

Edmund prospered after building five banks in New Orleans and began to hob knob with the wealthy of Crescent City where he eventually met Daniel Avery’s daughter, Mary Eliza Avery. Edmund had no farming experience prior to his marriage and settling on the Avery plantation. According to family legend, Edmund McIlhenny maintained a dislike for bland food. The influence of African, Caribbean, and Mexican cultures in the melting pot cuisine of New Orleans, in addition to the unique local preparations of the Acadians/Cajuns as well as the Spanish and French Creole populations in Louisiana, must have generated a crescendo of unique and interesting foods. The availability of fresh and exotic ingredients provided the adventurous epicurean with a playground of flavors and ideas.

More from Wikipedia:

Edmund McIlhenny was an American businessman and manufacturer who invented Tabasco brand pepper sauce.

Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1815, Edmund McIlhenny moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, around 1840, finding work in the Louisiana banking industry. By the eve of the American Civil War, he had acquired a small fortune and became an independent bank owner.[1]

During the Civil War, McIlhenny fled with his in-laws, the Avery family, to Texas, where he served as a civilian employee of the Confederate army, first as a clerk in a commissary office, then as a financial agent for the paymaster.

The South's economic collapse after its defeat ruined McIlhenny, who now lived with his in-laws in their plantation home on Avery Island, Louisiana. It was there that McIlhenny tended the family garden, where, according to tradition, he grew a variety of fruits and vegetables, including tabasco peppers.

Between 1866 and 1868, McIlhenny — probably inspired by an earlier sauce introduced by New Orleans-area entrepreneur Maunsel White — experimented with making a sauce from the peppers in the Avery family garden. In 1868 he grew his first commercial pepper crop, and the next year sold the first bottles of his new product, which he called Tabasco brand pepper sauce.

In 1870 McIlhenny obtained letters patent for his invention, which he packaged in cork-top two-ounce bottles with diamond logo labels very similar in appearance to those in present-day use.

At first McIlhenny sold the product mainly along the Gulf Coast in places like New Orleans, New Iberia, Louisiana, and Galveston, Texas. By the early 1870s, however, he had broken into larger markets, such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston, helped by major nineteenth century food manufacturer and distributor E. C. Hazard and Company.[2]

McIlhenny died in 1890, and apparently did not consider his creation of Tabasco sauce to have been a particularly notable accomplishment. Indeed, he made no mention of Tabasco sauce in an autobiographical sketch composed toward the end of his life, nor was it mentioned in his obituaries.[3]

Regardless, his successors, sons John Avery McIlhenny and Edward Avery McIlhenny, realized that their father had created a foundation on which they could build a larger family business, and they shortly expanded and modernized the manufacturing process. By the turn of the twentieth century, McIlhenny's invention could be found on tables worldwide, and it has since become a culinary favorite. Today each carton of Tabasco sauce bears a facsimile of McIlhenny's signature.

References

  1. ^ Dictionary of Louisiana Biography (Lafayette, La.: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana/Louisiana Historical Association, 1998), s.v., McIlhenny, Edmund.
  2. ^ Shane K. Bernard, "Tabasco: Edmund McIlhenny and the Birth of a Louisiana Pepper Sauce," Louisiana Cultural Vistas (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities publication), Fall 2005.
  3. ^ "TABASCO's Hot History," Morning Edition, National Public Radio (NPR), 29 November 2002.
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Edmund McIlhenny's Timeline

1815
October 15, 1815
Hagerstown, Washington, MD
1859
June 30, 1859
Age 43
Avery Island, Iberia Parish, LA
1860
September 10, 1860
Age 44
Avery Island, Iberia Parish, LA
1861
November 24, 1861
Age 46
Avery Island, Iberia, Louisiana, United States
1865
December 6, 1865
Age 50
Avery Island, Iberia, Louisiana, United States
1867
October 29, 1867
Age 52
Avery Island, Iberia Parish, LA
1869
January 10, 1869
Age 53
Avery Island, Louisiana, United States
1872
March 29, 1872
Age 56
Avery Island, Iberia Parish, LA
1876
March 2, 1876
Age 60
Avery Island, Iberia, Louisiana, United States
1877
February 16, 1877
Age 61
Avery Island, Louisiana, United States