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Century-old Jello-O wagon finds home in Pierce-Arrow Museum

A horse-drawn wagon used to sell Jell-O more than a century ago was unveiled Saturday at the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce-Arrow Museum.

The wagon, which dates between 1902 and 1904, advertises Jello-O Ice Cream Powder, "America's Most Famous Dessert."

It was purchased for the museum by Jim and Mary Ann Sandoro, the not-for-profit museum's founders. The story of the wagon and the museum's acquisition of it were told in two episodes earlier this year on the History Channel's "American Pickers."

"We're thrilled to have it. It's an important Western New York relic that we believe is one of the first moving advertising units to be used commercially in the United States," Jim Sandoro said. "The Jell-O Museum, in LeRoy, is also thrilled because we are conserving it as well as bringing it back to Western New York."

 

(Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The wagon was discovered by the show's Danielle Colby in an Ouachita Parish, La., family barn. Sandoro was contacted to see if he'd want to buy it for the museum and paid $9,500, with the TV show contributing $6,500, including the cost of shipping the wagon to Iowa to film it at their headquarters.

Sandoro said the cost of a special trailer and other expenses probably pushed his cost to $20,000 -- but no matter.

"Look what we got," Sandoro said, thrilled to have such a rare find in the museum's collection.

Colby was at the museum Saturday for the event, with funds for the gala event going toward conserving the wagon's paint and lettering.

Sandoro was approached to buy the wagon because he already knew some of the show's regulars.

"They are wonderful people," he said. "If I hadn't known them this wagon may still be sitting in a barn in Louisiana."

Buffalo-made Lippard Stewart trucks were the first motorized vehicles used by the Jell-O company. Sandoro plans to turn a Lippard Stewart truck in his collection into a Jell-O truck.

The wagon was built by the George Higgins Company, a Rochester wagon maker. Orator F. Woodward, a Village of LeRoy resident who bought the Jell-O patent in 1899, used the wagons to drum up interest in his product, then billed as ice cream.

Woodward mailed recipe catalogs to towns that advertised when Jell-O was coming. The wagon was then sent by train, where two black horses and a well-dressed coachman in a top hat were hired to drive it to a grocer waiting with free samples.

In two years, Jell-O sales reached $250,000 — well over $1 million in its day.

Woodward died four years later, but Genesee Pure Food Company continued the creative advertising strategy. At Ellis Island,  immigrants were greeted with free boxes of Jell-O to begin what the company hoped would be a lifelong connection.

The museum's hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

 

(Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

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