23 E Main St, Le Roy, NY 14482, USA
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There's Always Room for Jell-O In LeRoy, New YorkOne of the quirkiest museums in upstate New York tells the story of a wobbly treat dubbed "America's Most Famous Dessert" by brand-savvy marketers. Set in the small town of LeRoy, NY, the tiny Jell-O Gallery features original advertising art, molds, toys, recipe books and memorabilia that recount the history of a sugary product that lived up to its confident tagline in the baby-booming 1950s.
The unexpected result of an 1897 cough syrup experiment conducted by a LeRoy carpenter who dabbled in pharmaceuticals, Jello-O is set with processed gelatin—a version of the collagen protein found in the connective tissue of humans and animals. To make the tasteless ingredient palatable, the original recipe was 88% sugar, pushing it out of the realm of medicine.
Although its inventor and a few subsequent owners of the Jello-O trademark had no marketing success, a campaign launched in 1904 made the jiggly dessert a household name. Along with Ladies Home Journal ads illustrated by such noted artists as Norman Rockwell, it included slick salesmen who distributed free samples. Jell-O recipes rolled off the presses, and the four-year-old Jell-O Girl (whose father was an artist in Jell-O's advertising agency) amplified the product's ease-of-use, claiming, “A child can prepare it.” In her right hand, she held a teakettle; in her left, a package of Jell-O.
By 1934, Jack Benny taught the world how to spell J-E-L-L-O, leading the brand to grow from a mom-and-pop business to one of LeRoy's most important industries. Bill Cosby became the voice of Jell-O in 1974. Over his 30-year tenure, he introduced frozen Jell-O Pops, Sugar-Free Jell-O, Jell-O Jigglers, and Sparkling Jell-O—a carbonated version of the dessert, touted as the "Champagne of Jell-O."
Today, Jell-O is manufactured by Kraft/General Foods in Dover, Delaware. While sales have declined since its heyday, the gaudy, nutrient-free dessert may be smarter than we think. In a 1974 experiment, Dr. Adrian Upton hooked up Jell-O to an EEG (electroencephalogram) machine. The results revealed brain waves indistinguishable from an adult human's in the green blob. Whether Dr. Upton aimed to prove that Jell-O is alive or that EEG machines aren’t all they’re cracked up to be is anyone's guess.