The Kelley-Whitney Extract Co. was founded in 1901 by Enoch J. Kelley and Daniel Whitney in Elmira, N.Y. Their first store was located on E. 2nd and Union Street and by the 1910s had moved to 627-629 Lake Street. The company spanned most of the early-twentieth century, eventually going out of business in 1938. For most of their history, the company seemingly operated with very little controversy… except for their run-in with the USDA in 1912.
|The Kelley-Whitney Extract Co. Storefront|
“Kelley Whitney Extract Co. Pure Concentrated Extract Lemon. For flavoring Ice Cream, Cake, Custards, etc., K.W.C. Guaranteed Strictly Pure. Caution. Do not use too much. One half teaspoonful to each quart will be sufficient.”
However, instead of being “Strictly Pure,” United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) chemists found the “so-called” lemon extract actually contained a mixture of lemon oil by precipitation, lemon oil by polarization, citral, and the coal-tar dye, Aurotine (used to artificially color the product).
|Kelley-Whitney Co. Bottle for "Pure Extract of Nutmeg." This was not one of the flavors in question, so there is no indication of how "pure" it actually was.|
Further chemical tests found the orange and vanilla extracts were similarly adulterated. The orange extract contained the coal-tar dye "Double Scarlet," and the vanilla extract was mixed with other substances and artificial coloring to reduce its strength and change its appearance.
The Kelley-Whitney Extract Co. pleaded guilty to adulterating their products and using false and misleading labeling and the USDA delivered a three page judgment with all of their chemical findings. Their sentence? A $25 fine.
|Kelley-Whitney Extract Co. Imitation Cinnamon Extract. This bottle makes no claims of being pure extract.|
The Kelley-Whitney Extract Co. case is an example of regulatory practices in the early decades of the Pure Food and Drug Act (first passed in 1906). In fact, other local businesses also faced USDA fines, often for misrepresenting the weights of their products on packaging. Still, this episode and modern-day food recalls serve as a reminder that what we’re all eating may not be as “pure” as we think.