Would You Trust Him With Your Sandwich?

Vintage Original Vintage Ham advertisementHe may not look it, but the devil you see on cans of Underwood’s Deviled Ham is now 146 years old, which makes him the oldest food trademark in America.

This advertising mascot was created by the William Underwood Co. of Boston back in 1870. When the company was founded in 1822, it had specialized in producing condiments, such as mustards and pickled vegetables. Then it created a new food from ground ham and seasonings. Its spiciness suggested an infernal name, and “deviled” ham was born.

The original mascot sported long claws and a scowling gaze above a long, satanic mustache. Today, he’s a smiling cartoon figure who holds a harmless-looking pitchfork.

Underwood was a pioneer in the canning industry. As early as 1836, it began packing its products in steel cans with tin linings because the companies that made its glass jars couldn’t keep up with the demand for Underwood’s goods. Consequently, Underwood’s canned foods made their way west with pioneers and across Civil War battlefields with Union soldiers.

In his 1902 Western novel, The Virginian, Owen Wister wrote that “portable ready-made food” was a valuable aid to Western settlers, and a calling card of civilization in Wyoming’s cattle country. Watching cowboys provisioning themselves for the trail, Wister “grew familiar with the ham’s inevitable trademark — that label with the devil and his horns and hoofs and tail very pronounced, all colored a sultry prodigious scarlet.”