16 Fascinating Facts About Jell-O

It’s International Jell-O Week, people. These unexpected tidbits will change how you feel about one of America’s oldest desserts.


The first person to hold the patent for what would become Jell-O was Peter Cooper (not pictured) in 1845. He stupidly sold it to Pearle B. Wait — a cough syrup manufacturer — in 1897. Wait then stupidly sold it in 1899 to his neighbor, Orator Frank Woodward (a high school dropout), who bought it for $450 (about $12,000 today). Then Woodward became so rich, it’s stupid.

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There were four original flavors of Jell-O — lemon, orange, strawberry, and raspberry — as detailed in this 1904 advertisement.

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Jell-O began to take off in the early 1900s thanks to clever marketing and promotion. They would even give out free Jell-O molds to immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island.

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Jell-O commissioned art for ads by several famous artists, including Norman Rockwell.

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And Maxfield Parrish.

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As Jell-O increased in popularity, so too did a desire for gelatin salads (ew!) and so Jell-O began making savory versions in celery, seasoned tomato, and mixed vegetable flavors.

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So they could make nasty things like this.

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There are some pretty weird alternative uses for Jell-O. It can be sprinkled over cat litter, used as a hair or clothing dye, made into a finger paint, or used as an aid for ridding bathrooms of soap scum. Oh, and wrestling.

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In Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 silent film, The Ten Commandments, Jell-O was used to aid in the parting of the sea effect.

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In the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz, the colorful horses in the Emerald City got their hues from Jell-O powders.

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Bill Cosby has been a Jell-O spokesperson since 1974 — that’s 39 years!

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“March 17, 1993, technicians at St. Jerome hospital in Batavia test a bowl of lime Jell-O with an EEG machine and confirm the earlier testing by Dr. Adrian Upton that a bowl of wiggly Jell-O has brain waves identical to those of adult men and women.” Uhhhh. What???

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Jell-O has often been associated with Mormon culture. Kraft’s sales figures from 1997 show that Salt Lake City residents consume more Jell-O than anywhere else in the U.S.

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Scandal! When Elizabeth McNabb found out she was adopted and decided to search for her birth mother, she came up with Barbara Woodward (direct heir to the Jell-O fortune). Woodward had become pregnant with a married man and subsequently gave up the child for adoption. After Woodward’s death in 2003, McNabb sued for a piece of the inheritance, which she finally got — $3.5 million — in 2007.

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Some notable discontinued of both Jell-O classic and Jell-O puddings include:
- Bubble gum
- Cotton candy
- Coffee
- Cola
- Green apple
- Passion fruit
- Maple syrup
- Triple chocolate
- Plain (huh?)

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Candy cane, however, is a flavor still in circulation. As are: margarita, butterscotch, pumpkin spice, pina colada, and orange ice cream.

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