When (And Why) Did Americans Start Eating Bacon And Eggs For Breakfast?

BaconEggs3I was watching the Alfred Hitchcock film last night, “The Creeper.” It first aired in the mid 1950s, so I’ll assume it was meant to portray a 1950s apartment.

Two things …

One, I noticed the kitchen had a refrigerator. There probably would not have been one if this was Britain in the 1950s, given what I learned in the series “Back In Time For Dinner.”

The other thing … The husband was sitting at the kitchen table eating eggs. It may have been late afternoon since he was off to work a night shift. It made me wonder at what meal Americans typically eat, or ate eggs. Today in America, bacon and eggs is typical breakfast food. Why? When and how did that become a tradition?

Historian Eric Colleary, in his article How ‘Bacon And Eggs’ Became The American Breakfast says that prior to the 1920s:

The majority of Americans ate more modest, often meatless breakfasts that might include fruit, a grain porridge (oat, wheat or corn meals) or a roll, and usually a cup of coffee.

Colleary says that the switch to bacon-and-eggs rose from a marketing campaign:

In the 1920s, Bernays* was approached by the Beech-Nut Packing Company – producers of everything from pork products to the nostalgic Beech-Nut bubble gum. Beech-Nut wanted to increase consumer demand for bacon. Bernays turned to his agency’s internal doctor and asked him whether a heavier breakfast might be more beneficial for the American public. Knowing which way his bread was buttered, the doctor confirmed Bernays suspicion and wrote to five thousand of his doctors friends asking them to confirm it as well. This ‘study’ of doctors encouraging the American public to eat a heavier breakfast – namely ‘Bacon and Eggs’ – was published in major newspapers and magazines of the time to great success. Beech-Nut’s profits rose sharply thanks to Bernays and his team of medical professionals.

* Edward Bernays was a nephew of Sigmund Freud. He subscribed to Freud’s psychoanalytical ideas and believed propaganda was a good thing. “He felt this manipulation was necessary in society, which he regarded as irrational and dangerous as a result of the ‘herd instinct.’ ” In his obituary, he was referred to as the father of public relations.

Here’s a clip of Bernays recalling his Beech-Nut campaign which promoted eating a “heavier” breakfast including bacon and eggs.

Bernays: “As a result, the sale of bacon went up, and I still have a letter from … President of Beechnut Packing Company telling me so.”

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