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The story of the powerful McIlhennys of Louisiana, who turned hot peppers into a Tabasco fortune
After the Civil War ended, Edmund McIlhenny, an ambitious and tenacious Louisiana businessman, found himself with few prospects. The South’s economy in ruins and his millions of dollars in Confederacy currency worthless, he had no choice but to return with his wife, Mary, to her family home in Avery Island, a former sugar plantation destroyed by Union soldiers.
To McIlhenny’s surprise, the hot peppers he had planted before being forced off the island had flourished. Desperate to start a new business, he chopped up the peppers, combined them with salt and vinegar, and produced the first batch of hot pepper sauce. Or so the story goes. He called the sauce Tabasco.
In this fascinating history, Jeffrey Rothfeder tells how, from a simple idea—the outgrowth of a handful of peppers planted on an isolated island on the Gulf of Mexico—a secretive family business emerged that would produce one of the best-known products in the world. In short order, McIlhenny’s descendants would turn Tabasco into a gold mine and an icon of pop culture, making it as recognizable as far bigger brands such as Coca-Cola and Kleenex.
To this day, the McIlhenny Co., still run by a family of matchless characters who believe in a rigid code of family loyalty, clings to tradition and the old ways of doing business. Yet by fiercely protecting its beloved brand and refusing to sell out to big food conglomerates, this family business has run circles around its competitors, churning out annual revenues that have surpassed everyone’s expectations.
A delectable and satisfying read for both Tabasco fans and business buffs, McIlhenny’s Gold is the untold story of the continuing success of an eccentric, private company; a lively history of one of the most popular consumer products of all times; and an exploration of our desire to test the limits of human tolerance for fiery foods.