IHPST Research Seminar with Lisa Haushofer


Lisa Haushofer is a historian of science, food, and economic life. Her research examines the emergence of nutritional consumer products and their role in shaping the production of nutritional knowledge. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Culinaria Research Centre of the University of Toronto. Before coming to Toronto, she received a PhD in history of science from the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, and an MA in history of medicine from the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London.

The paper to be discussed:
On Health: Science, Advertisement, and Fleischmann’s Yeast

For the paper contact Michael Miller (mike.miller@utoronto.ca).


The ‘Yeast for Health Campaign’ to promote Fleischmann’s Yeast during the 1920s has generally been interpreted as an illustration of the growing importance of science, especially the field of vitamin research, in the marketing of commercial products, and in US-American culture more broadly. It has also been taken to represent the consolidation of power of the increasingly professionalizing advertisement industry over the needs and wants of consumers, and the corruption of individual scientists who willingly participated in company-commissioned research. In this chapter, I reexamine the Yeast for Health campaign, in particular with regard to the role of vitamin research, the importance of new product marketing strategies, and the function of individual nutrition scientists like Philip B. Hawk. Drawing on scientific literature, popular magazines, and the records of Fleischmann’s Yeast’s advertisement company, J. Walter Thompson, I first reconstruct the culture of collaboration between the medical community and the producers of nutritional products during the first decades of the twentieth century. I then analyze the Yeast for Health Campaign as well as previous advertisement tactics used by the company. In particular, I identify new marketing strategies employed by the company to allow consumers of the product to determine its uses. I argue that Fleischmann’s Yeast’s significance lies not so much in showcasing the immense cultural power of vitamins and nutrition science, but in highlighting how the relationship between scientific research and its application through products was turned on its head. The focus of experimentation, the chapter proposes, shifted from the content and use of products to the marketing strategies themselves. This constitutes a larger shift in the relationship between science and commercial nutritional products. Rather than signaling the growing importance of science in twentieth century food practices, it marks the moment when scientific authority became increasingly marginal to the marketing of commercial nutritional products.