Food & Drink
Betcha Didn’t Know - Five Things Invented in Brooklyn
Ben Franklin, as far as I can tell, never lived in Brooklyn. Credited with somewhere between 30 and 10,000 inventions, "The Father of America" didn’t leave many things to be conjured up by industrious Brooklynites. Sadly, our neighborhood forefathers were forced to feast on the scraps of Franklin’s inexhaustible mind. So what’s left for Brooklyn-invention buffs to take pride in? Let’s take a look.
Sweet'N Low and Sugar Packets
In a land famous for cafés and diners, it’s fitting that a breakfast dining staple was developed in the Borough of Kings. Although saccharine had been discovered almost a century earlier, it didn’t see widespread use until it was popularized by Brooklynite Benjamin Eisenstadt when he added dextrose and cream of tartar to the mixture and created Sweet'N Low. The ubiquitous pink packets debuted in 1957 at the Cumberland Packing building on Cumberland Street. Previous to founding the sugar substitute, Eisenstadt owned a bakery and developed the world’s first sugar packets (of any variety) but lost out on untold millions when he pitched the packets to restaurants and buyers without first securing a patent, losing out on royalties. No doubt Eisenstadt’s mania to develop a packet sugar substitute was driven by this inexcusable blunder. He also is credited as the first man to individually package soy sauce, so you have old Ben Eisenstadt to thank for the thousands of unused soy sauce packets slowly dying in your pantry.
The Teddy Bear
The story of the Teddy Bear’s namesake is famous. On a hunting trip with the governor of Mississippi, President Theodore Roosevelt declined to shoot a bear that had been clubbed and tied up for the president. The story was memorialized in a political cartoon by Clifford K. Berryman, the cartoon was a hit, and sometime thereafter, it came to the attention of Brooklyn candy-store owner Morris Michtom. Michtom, a Jewish Russian immigrant who ran his store on Tompkins Ave in Bed-Stuy, was sufficiently inspired and began creating toy stuffed animals at night. He named his creation “Teddy’s Bear” and mailed one to the President for his enjoyment. It goes without saying, the toy was a hit.
The American Roller Coaster
Before all the roller coaster history purists jump to the comment sections, I’ll concede: the very first roller coaster of any sort was a re-commissioned mine train in the mountains of Pennsylvania. In 1872, a Pennsylvania mining company was looking for an easier way to haul several tons of coal down the side of a mountain. They installed train tracks along a sharp decline and smoothly transported the black gold. Soon, the company discovered they could make more money hauling thrill-seeking civilians, and the coal train rode out the last decades of its life as the father to the roller-coaster. But saying this runaway train ride was the first roller-coaster is like saying a bayonet was the world’s first nuclear warhead; just because it provides a similar service, doesn’t make it the same thing.
Using inspiration from both the aforementioned coal train and crude roller coaster designs that existed in Russia, a man named LaMarcus Adna Thompson invented America’s first true roller coaster, the Switchback Railway. It debuted in the spring of 1884 at Coney Island to instant success. The Switchback is not the same roller-coaster that resides at the theme park today, however; the iconic Coney Island Cyclone debuted years later in 1927.
Brooklyn inventor Richard LaMotta was born the son of a butcher in 1942. He went on to study economics at Brooklyn College and law at New York Law School. But he would discover his destiny a few years later when, in 1981, he invented the legendary ice cream sandwich, the Chipwich. LaMotta enlisted 60 students to work as street vendors and sell his treat across New York City. As the story goes, it took only a few hours to sell LaMotta’s entire inventory of 25,000 Chipwiches.
Richard LaMotta may not be the most famous member of his family however. Richard’s cousin, Jake LaMotta, was the boxer famously portrayed by Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull.
Similar to the story behind the roller coaster, competitive eating has Coney Island origins and needs to be qualified. Eating competitions predate the United States of course; centuries-old myths tell of epic food-stuffing battles with the gods. But the food competition as we know it today began at Brooklyn’s famed Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand.
The origin of the event is often debated, as it’s impossible to separate fact from legend. But no less of an authority than Major League Eating claims the famous hot-dog eating contest (and competitive eating in general) began in 1916. Four immigrants scarfed down hot dogs in front of the original Nathan’s stand in a contest to determine who among them was the most patriotic. (If only every dust-up could be cleared this way.) According to legend, the Irishman won by eating 13 dogs, a number that contemporary champions Joey Chestnut and Kobayashi would scoff at.
The “sport” rapidly grew in popularity from there, as evidenced by the mere existence of a Major League Eating organization.