Every once in a while, you see recipes from the 1950s for those horrid molded Jello salads made with tomato or celery flavored Jell-O. The history of Jell-O goes back much further than that. In fact, gelatin has been eaten for centuries. But it was rather difficult to prepare until the invention of powdered gelatin in the mid-19th century.
So, in 1845, the already famous inventor of the first American-built steam locomotive – the Tom Thumb – Peter Cooper, devised a way to make gelatin more accessible by making large sheets of it and grinding it into a powder. He applied for and was granted a patent (US Patent 4084) for a gelatin dessert powder he called “Portable Gelatin” requiring only the addition of hot water. Despite the future economic windfall a gelatin powder would provide, Cooper didn’t market it nor did much of anything with his invention. He sold the powder to cooks on occasion, but never commercialized it beyond that. In fact, he was more interested in the production of powdered glue. He never quite figured out that secret. Unlike Jell-O, as most kids find out early in life, glue doesn’t taste very good.
The patent for powdered gelatin passed through several other hands before it became a sensation in 1904. Read about how Jell-O was developed, named, and marketed on its way to being the ubiquitous product we know today, at Today I Found Out.