Justin’s Cultural Museum Piece: the Joseph A. Campbell Preserve Company

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Nearly 150 years after its inception, The Campbell’s Soup Company remains one of the most successful food corporations in the world. It dates back to 1860 when Abraham Anderson, an icebox manufacturer, opened a canning factory in Camden. In 1869, Joseph A. Campbell, a Philadelphia produce vendor, went into partnership with Anderson and together, the two began canning and selling vegetables, condiments and other goods. By 1876, three years after Walt Whitman arrived in Camden, Anderson was out of the picture, and Campbell had taken full control of the business and renamed it the Joseph Campbell & Company.


In 1882, after realizing the difficulties that come with manning an entire company alone, Campbell enlisted support from his nephew Joseph S. Campbell, his son-in-law Walter Spackman, and Spackman’s close friend Arthur Dorrance, who brought much-needed financial help to the partnership. After building itself up as a solid business, the company—now called the Joseph Campbell Preserve Company—could afford to construct a large factory in the heart of Camden, and in 1896, Campbell and company broadened its production line and started packaging and selling ketchup, plum pudding, and other in-demand condiments and foods. It wasn’t until 1899, however, that the company began producing what it would it eventually be best known for: soup.

Campbell’s Soup production began when Arthur Dorrance’s nephew, John Thompson Dorrance, introduced a new and effective way of canning condensed soup. This innovative method gave Campbell’s and advantage over its soup-canning rivals: while other companies wasted money shipping uncondensed soup, Campbell’s was able to package its products for a fraction of the price. By this time, the prepared foods industry was on the rise; by 1904, Campbell’s boasted annual sales of sixteen million cans of soup, had added Pork and Beans to their inventory of products, and increased the number of varieties of soup from the original five to twenty-one. Also introduced in 1904 were the Campbell Kids:


Very creepy, now that I think about it; but they are recognizable icons nonetheless.

By 1911, Campbell’s had expanded all the way to the opposite coast, selling its products in California. It was one of the very first companies to gain nationwide success. In 1914, John Thompson Dorrance became president of the Joseph Campbell Preserve Company. One of his first orders of business was to concentrate on the production of soup and eliminate the company’s less important products like condiments and jellies. He was also able to increase Campbell’s already impressive sales by advertising that in addition to being eaten alone, their soups could be used to flavor and enhance other foods.


Dorrance was a genius whose sharp mind and innovative ways of thinking were responsible for Campbell’s early success. Knowing that self-reliance was the smartest way to do business, Campbell’s began growing its own produce, namely tomatoes. The company devoted most of the summer months to producing tomato juice and tomato soup. This gamble paid off, because during World War I, nearly half the company’s sales were from these two products alone. In 1915, Campbell’s added another jewel to its crown when it bought the Franco-American Food Company, the first American soup-producing company.

So, what is the connection to Walt Whitman? Well, I’ve searched high and low and haven’t been able to find any interaction between him and any of the Campbell’s Soup forefathers. However, there are obvious parallels between Mr. Whitman and the Joseph A. Campbell Preserve Company. The most apparent one is that they are both American icons that are forever linked with the city of Camden. The Campbell’s Soup can is an instantly-recognizable image thanks to its prominence and long history:


Love Andy Warhol.

Another is that they had ambitions to reach a wide national audience at a time when work was generally confined to one’s local area. A passage from “Drum Taps” comes to mind:

“From Paumanok starting, I fly like a bird,

Around and around to soar, to sing the idea of all;

To the north betaking myself, to sing there arctic songs,

To Kanada, ’till I absorb Kanada in myself—to Michigan then,

To Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, to sing their songs (they are inimitable);

Then to Ohio and Indiana, to sing theirs—to Missouri and Kansas and Arkansas to sing theirs,

To Tennessee and Kentucky—to the Carolinas and Georgia, to sing theirs,

To Texas, and so along up toward California, to roam accepted everywhere;

To sing first (to the tap of the war-drum, if need be)

The idea of all—of the western world, one and inseparable,

And then the song of each member of these States.”

Walt Whitman wants national fame (international, technically, if you include Canada). He’s not the first American poet to achieve legendary status, but many do consider him the greatest (he is given the honor of being “America’s poet” very frequently). It may seem odd to compare a poet to a soup company, but Campbell’s is definitely the same way. Thanks to innovation and ingenuity, Campbell’s managed to outperform its predecessors and competitors and forge a reputation as the most successful soup company in the nation, if not the world. Just as Whitman has managed to overshadow both his contemporaries and his predecessor, Campbell’s manages to maintain its reputation as the greatest name in the soup industry, despite not having been the first.

The city of Camden has garnered a really negative reputation in recent years thanks to crime and poverty. It also has the misfortune of being nestled in the overwhelming shadows of both Philadelphia and New York City. But Walt Whitman and Campbell’s Soup (and let’s not forget RCA) can make a Camdenite swell with town pride.

Works Cited

Salamie, David A. “Campbell Soup Company — Company History” Web – <http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Campbell-Soup-Company-Company-History.html>

Whitman, Walt. “Drum Taps”. Whitman Poetry & Prose. Library of America, 1996.

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