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Cottolene was a brand of shortening made of beef suet and cottonseed oil produced in the United States from 1868 until the early 20th century. It was the first mass-produced and mass-marketed alternative to lard and is remembered today chiefly for its iconic national ad campaign and the cookbooks that were written to promote its use.

Ad for Cottolene, 1915.

According to Dr. Alice Ross, writing in the Journal of Antiques and Collectibles, Cottolene emerged as an offshoot of two industries. Cotton seeds were a waste product of the cotton industry, and beef tallow was a waste product of the meat-processing industry. The N. K. Fairbank Corporation of Chicago seized on this glut and created a product catering to late-19th-century America's growing infatuation with labor-saving packaged foods for the "dainty" (lard-free) diet.[1]

It was comparable to and a competitor of Procter & Gamble's Crisco, which was packaged similarly and marketed with accompanying cookbooks. Crisco was composed entirely of cottonseed oil.

Cottolene remains in the public consciousness thanks to the lasting impact of its advertising campaign and the accompanying cookbooks it produced. A September 2007 search of the auction website eBay reveals 29 separate Cottolene advertisements and tins for sale.[2] Scholarly analysis of Cottolene advertisements appears in the book Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights.[3] At least one Cottolene cookbook, "Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners" by Elizabeth O. Hiller, was reprinted in its entirety in 1981, with all references to Cottolene intact, both in the opening endorsements and the following recipes.[4]


  1. ^ Ross, Alice. "Cottolene and the mysterious disappearance of lard". Journal of Antiques and Collectibles, February 2002.
  2. ^ Cottolene, Advertising, Exonumia items on Archived 2007-01-02 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Robin Bernstein, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights, (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 30-36, 64-65.
  4. ^ Hiller, Elizabeth O.: Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners, Coles Publishing Company, 1981.

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