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Richard C. Hellmann

Richard C. Hellmann (22 June 1876 to 2 February 1971) is the man who created Hellmann's Mayonnaise.

He was born about 60 miles south of Berlin in Vetschau, Spreewald, Germany. His parents were Hermann and Emma Palm Hellmann. Hermann was a sadler. Richard went to school until the age of 14, when he become an apprentice at a food market in Vetschau (circa 1890.) He worked there for 4 years, till about 1894. After that, he had other jobs in food handling in places such as Spreewald, Halle, Hamburg, and Bremerhaven. He applied for a job at Crosse & Blackwell in London, and got it. He moved to London and worked in the company's factory in London. While there, he went to school at night to learn English.

While working in London, he met a man from San Francisco (the President of grocer Goldberg, Bowen & Co) who offered him a job in San Francisco. Hellmann accepted, and travelled by ship to New York as part of his journey to San Francisco. He arrived in New York in October 1903. New York was to have only been a brief stopover before catching a train the rest of the way. But there, he saw the offices on Franklin Street of "Francis H. Leggett Co.", a name Hellmann recognized from his work with Crosse & Blackwell, who had distributed some of Leggett's products in England. Hellmann decided to go in and say hello. He met the vice-president, John C. Juhring, who offered him a job on the spot for $9.00 dollars a week, which Hellmann accepted. [2]

In Germany, Hellmann had known Margaret Vossberg, who had come to New York with her parents, who were delicatessen owners. He met up with her again, and married her in August 1904. The couple lived on West 78th Street. Every day Richard would walk up Columbus Avenue to catch the train at 81st Street to work at Leggett's.

In the middle of 1905, he noticed that a former tailor shop at 490 Columbus Avenue was for rent. He decided to rent the store, as well as the apartments at the back. He and Margaret opened a delicatessen, calling it Hellman's Delicatessen. Hellmann was 29 years old.

The delicatessen prospered. One of the many products they made and sold was mayonnaise. They'd make a small batch everyday, and just sell it in small amounts as part of all the other items they made and sold there. Eventually the couple had made enough money to purchase the building at 490 Columbus, as well as 492 Columbus next door.

In 1906, the couple had a daughter, whom they named Margaret.

In 1911, Hellmann had a bout of bad health which the doctor attributed to extreme overwork and warned him he would not live much longer at that pace. Taking the doctor's warning to heart, he sold off most of the delicatessen business to a man named Charles Eberhardt, but retained a small interest in the business. In the first quarter of 1912, the Hellmann family travelled to Germany for a holiday, visiting amongst other places Richard's hometown of Vetschau. While in Europe, they also went to Paris. There, Richard met up with a former colleague of his from Crosse & Blackwell in London, a man named Matt Martinez. Martinez had become president of his family's food business in Paris. Amongst other food products, Martinez's business made and sold mayonnaise in bulk (five-pound wooden butter boxes) to hotels and other large entities. Hellmann was interested in the idea, but wasn't sure about how safe the wooden boxes were.

While in Europe in the first quarter of 1912, Hellmann got news that back in New York, Eberhardt had died. Hellmann wanted to return to New York to look after the delicatessen business. A travel agent advised him to book passage on a new ship called the "Titanic", but he chose one that was due to arrive in New York a bit earlier, and would cost less.

"While inquiring for passage back to New York, the traveling agencies all were stressing and trying to sell passage to New York on the then new ship Titanic," Grandpa wrote. "But having cost of passage in mind and having the need of an early arrival in New York, I selected an earlier, smaller liner and arrived and was in New York a few days when the news came of the loss of the Titanic at sea." -- Dahms-Foster, Heidi. Titanic's story is lifelong fascination. Prescott Valley Tribute. 21 March 2012. Retrieved October 2013 from http://www.pvtrib.com/main.asp?SectionID=36&SubSectionID=73&ArticleID=55727.

The Hellmanns were back in New York by April 1912. They took back over running the delicatessen. They were asked to supply a sizable quantity of mayonnaise for a party, which they did. That got Richard thinking again about Martinez's mayonnaise trade back in Paris, and wondering if it would be a profitable product for him in New York, too.

Richard began experimenting at night with making mayonnaise; he wanted a new recipe different from the one they had used a few years ago. He was looking for a formula that would produce consistent results, and would keep a bit better. By trial and error, he arrived at a recipe he was happy with which used vegetable oil, vinegar, raw egg yolk, salt, sugar and seasoning. [Note: he would keep on tinkering with the recipe for the next 15 years. Also note that we have found no backing for claims that the mayonnaise was Margaret's recipe.] He began selling it in the store, where it was popular with customers.

He also tried selling it in bulk to hotels, packaging it in one-gallon stone jars (which he thought was more sanitary than wooden boxes. [3]) These sales didn't really take off, though. But, delicatessen customers continued to buy it; the stock he'd make in the morning would always be cleaned out of the store by the end of the day, doled out to customers from large glass jars into small wooden "boats."[4]

He soon decided to try selling it in clear-glass, labelled bottles as a product in other delicatessens and grocery stores as well as his own.

On 1 September 1912, he began selling his newly repackaged mayonnaise. The label he'd decided on had three blue ribbons on it. A Blue Ribbon, at the time and still now, usually means first place winner at fairs and competitions. He offered two sizes, 3 ½ ounce and 8 ½ ounce, in screw-top jars with wide mouths on them, rather than narrow necks or openings.

"He said that after he decided to bottle the product in glass jars for individual family consumption, his entire first output was purchased right in his factory." [5]

He was not the only person in the bottled, direct to consumer salad dressing business. In Philadelphia, in 1907, a delicatessen had advertised for sale "Mrs. Schlorer's Mayonnaise. [3] And many other companies had long been in the bottled salad dressing business, such as E.R. Durkee of New York (since 1877), Curtice Brothers of Rochester, New York, etc. He also ran a delivery truck, delivering the product right to the stores that were willing to carry it to make sure they always had stock. Retailers had to pay upfront for any bottles they took, but each week they could return any unsold bottles.

In November 1913, he applied for a trademark on his ribbon graphic.

In May 1914, he simplified the label to be one blue ribbon, and trademarked it along with the name "Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise."

His jars were reusable for home canning; they just needed a new rubber ring, which Hellmann was also happy to sell you for a penny each.

As sales grew, he hired distributors to take the product to various merchants in various parts of New York City.

By the end of 1914, the business was too big to operate out of the back of the delicatessen any longer. He sold the store off, and opened a small mayonnaise factory in 1915 at 120 Lawrence Street (now West 126th) in Manhattan. That was only temporary, though: by the end of 1915, he had a larger factory at 495 / 497 Steinway Street, in Long Island City.

"Richard Hellmann, Inc. Convention Tomorrow." A convention, banquet and dance has been arranged by Richard Hellmann, Inc, of 497 Steinway Avenue, Long Island City, for tomorrow, for members of the organization, its out of town representatives and its business friends. The program for the day includes a trip through the factory, followed by a convention at 4 o'clock at the Hotel McAlpin for distributors of the firm's products." -- Brooklyn, NY: Daily Star. Friday, 25 February 1921. Page 2.

In February 1916, the company was incorporated as Richard Hellman, Inc.

He briefly tried some other products, such as horseradish and pumpernickel bread, but they were discontinued in favour of increased focus on the mayonnaise and selling it outside New York City.

In November 1919, Hellmann licenced a John Behrmann to make the mayonnaise in Chicago.

In 1919, Hellmann bought land on Bayside Avenue in Flushing, New York:

"Richard Hellman, of 310 Steinway Avenue, Long Island City, has filed plans with the Building Bureau for a garage and dwelling which he will erect on Bayside Avenue and Ziegler Avenue, Flushing. The buildings will cost $17,000." -- More Plans Filed. Jamaica, New York: Long Island Daily Press. Wednesday, 27 August 1919. Page 1.

In 1920, the New York Tribune asked three chefs to rate commercial salad dressing brands. They voted Hellman's mayonnaise the best, and found that at 85% oil, it had more than any other salad dressing they tested. This helped to boost sales.

On 29 July 1920, Richard Hellmann took out American citizenship. Later that year, Margaret Hellmann died.

In the early 1920s, sales of the mayonnaise started in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

In 1922, he began building a larger factory (five stories) at 34-08 Northern Boulevard in Long Island City.

On 11 May 1922, Hellmann remarried to Nina Maxwell (daughter of a Mr and Mrs William J. Maxwell). They were married at her parents home at 318 Bayside Avenue, Flushing, New York by an Episcopal minister. Hellmann lived just down the road at 392 Bayside Avenue in a house with several acres of land he'd bought in 1919. The couple moved into his home. They would have four children: Robert, Raymond, Carol, and June. [1] At some point, the couple had a second home (until 1937) on Burlingame Avenue in San Mateo, California.

Richard and Nina honeymooned in Atlantic City, and then in San Francisco. While in San Francisco on his honeymoon, Hellmann mixed business with pleasure by setting underway plans for a Hellmann's plant in San Francisco to supply the west:

"San Francisco - Richard Hellmann, incorporated to erect $250,000 factory". -- Woodland Daily Democrat December 13, 1922. Page 6.

As the 1920s advanced, Hellmann continued his efforts to build markets out west:

"Wanted - Man who is now operating cash wagon calling on grocery trade desiring side line of mayonnaise and cheese. Good proposition and territory open. White. Richard Hellmann, Inc. 16th and Harrison Sts., San Francisco, Calif." -- Help Wanted Column. Nevada State Journal. Tuesday, 20 May 1924. Page 7.

In 1922, the first Hellmann's mayonnaise cookbook was published by Behrman in Chicago. At the time, the product was known as "Hellmann’s Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise."

By the mid 1920s, there was a lot of competition for the bottled mayonnaise consumer in America: over 600 companies had entered the fray. Hellmann responded by investing in techniques, acquiring the ability to emulsify mayonnaise better, and by the end of the 1920s he could produce three tons of mayonnaise an hour.

"Richard Hellman of 392 Bayside Avenue. Long Island City. Drying apparatus. This relates to drying apparatus and more particularly to means for rapidly drying bottles or jars upon their discharge from an automatic washing machine." -- Five on Long Island Get New Patents. Long Island Daily Press. Tuesday, 15 September 1925. Page 8.

In 1927, he was selling $15 million worth of mayonnaise a year, for a profit of $1 million.

"Creation of the business of selling Blue Ribbon mayonnaise was described as an American business romance at the convention of the northwestern group of Long Island plant distributors of Richard Hellman. Inc.. its maker, in Hotel Statler, Saturday. Richard Hellman, president of the company, formerly was a grocer who developed a neighborhood business by selling his mayonnaise, about 12 years ago. Gradually the business grew until now hundreds of thousands of jars of his mayonnaise are sold in the United States and Canada. Plants at various points in the United States are working to capacity manufacturing the product, Mr. Hellmann told the convention. Among those who spoke on problems relative to the business were George C. Rohrs, general sales manager; Joseph Wood, national sales councilor; C. D. Meschter, manager of plants, and R. T. Moore, district sales manager. The convention will close Saturday evening with a dinner at 6:30 o'clock." -- Mayonnaise Men Meet: Story of Sale of Blue Ribbon Told at Convention Here. Buffalo Evening News. Saturday, 30 April 1927.

In the same year, August 1927, he sold the Hellman's company to Marjorie Merriweather Post of Postum Foods (which became General Foods in 1929.) [6]

After the sale, Richard and Nina's lives largely become ones of leisure. He became a speaker about business, and was involved in many business organizations; Nina became a regional champion women's golfer.

In 1928, his daughter Margaret married an employee of the company; they moved into a home on the Hellmann estate at 392 Bayside Avenue. [7]

For reasons unknown, Hellmann was involved in a court case in 1928 against Theodore and Sophie Bicko in Long Island. [Jamaica, New York: Long Island Daily Press, Saturday, 10th March 1928.]

Hellmann used some of his money to expand his land at his Bayside Avenue home:

"Richard Hellman has purchased through his realtors from the (sic) Mitchell and Henry W. Wickham, of Mattituck, formerly of Flushing, 25 lots situated on the north side of Bayside Avenue, adjoining his estate on the west. Mr. Hellman, in 1919, purchased the old Wickham homestead property and has expended about $60,000 in improving it. The land just purchased will be landscaped and added to and form with the rest of the property." -- Bayside Plot Sold. Jamaica, New York: Long Island Daily Press. Monday, 17 September 1928. Page 8.

He also built a summer home in the Catskills area of New York in Boiceville. He called the house Bobrae Mountain Lodge (a play on his son's names, Robert and Raymond.) The building is extant today (2013), known as the Onteora Mountain House.

In 1929, Richard started two charitable foundations, one in America called the Richard Hellmann Foundation, and another in his hometown of Vetschau, Germany, called Die Hellmann-

In 1954, Richard Hellmann moved to Park Drive South in Rye, New York.

On 7 January 1956, their daughter June married a Charles H. Smith of Reno, Nevada. [11]

On 2 February 1971, Richard Hellmann died at the age of 94 in a nursing home in Greenwich, Connecticut. He had been, over time, a member of Queens Chamber of Commerce, Flushing Country Club, Long Island City Rotary Club, New York Athletic Club, Flushing United Association, Men's Club of the Reformed Church, and Orpheus Glee Club of Flushing. He was also a Shriner and a Mason.

Literature & Lore

[Ed: spellings of Hellmann as "Hellman" were left unaltered in any direct quotes.]

"A yacht owned by Richard Hellman (sic) sank near Bayside today after an explosion aboard. Two men were injured and taken to hospital at Flushing, Long Island." -- Sinks After Explosion. Portsmouth Herald. Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 2 July 1929. Page 4.

"She was so nice, too! This wrecked yacht, 'Tranquille II', owned by Richard C. Hellman (sic), mayonnaise monarch, was a neat little craft before she was wrecked by an explosion at Little Neck Bay, L.I., in which two were injured." -- News of the World Told in Pictures. Indiana Evening Gazette July 8, 1929. Page 12.

"Gasoline fumes denoted by a spark from a generator wrecked the $100,000 yacht, Tranquille II, owned by Richard Hellman, mayonnaise magnate, off Bayside, Queens." -- "As the World Wags" column. Charleston Daily Mail. Friday, 5 July 1929. Page 6.

"Two men are in Flushing hospital today as the result of an explosion on board the yacht "Tranquille No 2," moored in Little Neck Bay and owned by Richard Hellman of 392 Bayside Avenue, Flushing. The men, Reginald Smith, 38, of Canada, and Otto Eicler, of 105 10th Street, Hoboken, both employed on the vesssel, were thrown 20 feet into the water by the explosion. Smith was able to swim to shore. Eicler was rescued by men near the dock at the time. They were attended by Ambulance Surgeon Epstein and taken to a hospital. Eicler suffered a rupture of both ear drums and cuts of the left arm and shoulder. Smith was cut about the head and body, his arm was fractured and his head and faced burned." -- Two Hurt in Yacht Blast. Jamaica, New York: Long Island Daily Press. Wednesday, 3 July 1929. Page 1.

"Mrs Richard Hellman of Rye, choirlady of the state senior's tournament, addressed the group attending the trophy dinner. She is U.S. senior women's golf champion, and a former state titlist." -- State Golf Notes. Syracuse Herald Journal July 11, 1956. Page 31.

Language Notes

Most newspapers and publications of the time referred to him, in both editorial copy and advertisements, as "Hellman" with just one "n."


[1] Note re children: Andrew J. Smith writes that Hellmann had one child with Margaret, a daughter named Margaret, and four children with Nina. Heidi Dahms-Foster, a granddaughter, says two children with Margaret -- "he and his wife and daughter Margaret (they later had another child, my Uncle Bob)" -- and three children with Nina: "he married my grandmother, Nina Maxwell, and they had three more kids - my mother, and another aunt and uncle." Dahms-Foster, Heidi. Titanic's story is lifelong fascination. Prescott Valley Tribute. 21 March 2012. Retrieved October 2013 from http://www.pvtrib.com/main.asp?SectionID=36&SubSectionID=73&ArticleID=55727.]

[2] Dahms-Foster, Heidi. Titanic's story is lifelong fascination. Prescott Valley Tribute. 21 March 2012. Retrieved October 2013 from http://www.pvtrib.com/main.asp?SectionID=36&SubSectionID=73&ArticleID=55727

[3] An article in a 1927 issue of Grocery Review says that he actually did use one-pound wooden boxes at first. Rise of Richard Hellmann, Inc. Reads Like a Romance,” Wholesale Grocery Review 28 (1927). Page 70.

[4] "Hellman's Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise is introduced by German-born delicatessen owner Richard Hellmann, 35, who has operated Hellmann's Delicatessen at 490 Columbus Avenue since 1905, ladling out portions of mayonnaise from big glass jars into wooden boats for sale by weight. He now packs the product in individual glass jars and enjoys such success that he will be building a three-storey factory in Astoria, Queens, next year and by 1915 will have given up the delicatessen to concentrate on manufacturing." -- Trager, James. The New York Chronology: The Ultimate Compendium of Events, People, and Anecdotes from the Dutch to the Present. Harper-Collins. 2010. Page 341.

[5] Mount Vernon, NY: Daily Argus. Thursday, 22 June 1944. Page 3.

[6] "A contract with a controlling interest in Richard Hellman, Inc., (sic) manufacturers of sauces and relishes, has been obtained by Postum Company, whereby Postum will buy its entire business and assets. The plan virtually provides that common stockholders of the Hellman company shall be entitled to receive on liquidation, one share of Postum stock for nearly four shares of Hellman. The preferred stock of the Hellman company will be retired as soon as practicable." -- Wall Street Briefs. Oakland Tribune. 16 August 1927. Page 39.

[7] "Mr. and Mrs. Richard C. Hellman, of 392 Bayside Avenue, Flushing, have announced the engagement of their daugher, Miss Margaret M. Hellman, to Lloyd Earl Hardy of Ashland, Wisconsion. The wedding will take place in the fall. Miss Hellman attended Mrs. Dow's School at Briarcliff, N.Y. and then spent a year abroad, studying art in Switzerland. She will continuer her studies at the Traphagen School in Manhattan. Mr. Hardy is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and assistant to the manager of Mr. Hellman's Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise plant in Long Island City." -- Flushing Column. Daily Star, Queen's Borough. Tuesday Evening, 19 June 1928. Page 9.

[7] "In St. George's Church, Flushing, L.I. at 8 o'clock last evening Miss Margaret C. Hellman was married to Lloyd Earl Hardy of Ashland, Wis., by the Rev. Arthur Judge. A reception at the home of the bride's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hellman at 392 Bayside avenue, followed the ceremony. The bride is a graduate of Miss Dow's School at Briarcliff and of Lacaslida at Lausanne, Switzerland. Her engagement to Mr. Hardy was announced at a bridge party June 22. Mr. Hardy is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hardy of Ashland, Wis. He was graduated from the University of Wisconsin and is assistant manager of the Long Island City plant of Richard Hellman, Inc., of which the bride's father is president and director. On their return from a wedding trip, Mr. and Mrs. Hardy will reside in a house that has been built. for them on the Hellman estate at Flushing." -- Miss Margaret C. Hellman is Married. Standard Union. Friday, 21 September 1928. Page 11.

[Ed: Some notices refer to his daughter as Margaret M.; others as Margaret C.]

[8] Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hellman . . . you know Hellman's famous mayonnaise . . . now one of the "Standard Brands" . . . are here to attend the marriage of their daughter, June, come January 7th. They finally reached Reno on Christmas day . . . Traveling by train they were delayed at Ogden . . . then the S. P. put on a two-car train for passengers as far west as Reno . . . and this in turn was held up at Elko, where they spent Christmas eve . . . . and they came in Christmas Day by Greyhound bus . . . glad to see Reno and the Riverside . . . and happy, too, because of their daughter's impending marriage." -- Reno Evening Gazette January 4, 1956. Page 4.

Allen, Gary J., Ed. The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries. Westport, Ct: Greenwood Publishing Group. 2007. Page 95.

Bunyan, Patrick. All Around the Town: Amazing Manhattan Facts and Curiosities. Fordham University Press. Second edition, 2010.

Flushing Girl becomes bride of Richard Hellman. Brooklyn, NY: Daily Star. Friday, May 12 1922. Page 5.

Smith, Andrew F. Hellmann's Mayonnaise: A History. Retrieved October 2013 from http://andrewfsmith.com/.

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Oulton, Randal. "Richard C. Hellmann." CooksInfo.com. Published 05 October 2013; revised 05 October 2013. Web. Accessed 05/25/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/richard-c-hellmann>.

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