Hagerstown, Maryland, United States
|Died||November 25, 1890
Avery Island, Louisiana, United States
|Spouse(s)||Mary Eliza Avery|
Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1815, Edmund McIlhenny moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, around 1840, finding work in the Louisiana banking industry. He was of Irish and Scottish descent, his great grandparents immigrated to America from County Donegal. By the eve of the American Civil War, he had acquired a small fortune and became an independent bank owner.
On June 30, 1859, he married Mary Eliza Avery. They had eight children.
During the Civil War, McIlhenny fled with his in-laws, the Avery family, to Texas, where he served as a civilian employee of the Confederate army, first as a clerk in a commissary office, then as a financial agent for the paymaster.
The South's economic collapse after its defeat ruined McIlhenny, who now lived with his in-laws in their plantation house on Avery Island, Louisiana. It was there that McIlhenny tended the family garden, where, according to tradition, he grew a variety of fruits and vegetables, including tabasco peppers.
Between 1866 and 1868, McIlhenny — probably inspired by an earlier sauce introduced by New Orleans-area entrepreneur Maunsel White — experimented with making a sauce from the peppers in the Avery family garden. In 1868 he grew his first commercial pepper crop, and the next year sold the first bottles of his new product, which he called Tabasco brand pepper sauce.
In 1870 McIlhenny obtained letters patent for his invention, which he packaged in cork-top two-ounce bottles with diamond logo labels very similar in appearance to those in present-day use.
At first McIlhenny sold the product mainly along the Gulf Coast in places like New Orleans, New Iberia, Louisiana, and Galveston, Texas. By the early 1870s, however, he had broken into larger markets, such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston, helped by major nineteenth century food manufacturer and distributor E. C. Hazard and Company.
Death and legacy
McIlhenny died in 1890, and apparently did not consider his creation of Tabasco sauce to have been a particularly notable accomplishment. Indeed, he made no mention of Tabasco sauce in an autobiographical sketch composed toward the end of his life, nor was it mentioned in his obituaries.
Regardless, his successors, sons John Avery McIlhenny and Edward Avery McIlhenny, realized that their father had created a foundation on which they could build a larger family business, and they shortly expanded and modernized the manufacturing process. By the turn of the twentieth century, McIlhenny's invention could be found on tables worldwide, and it has since become a culinary favorite. Today each carton of Tabasco sauce bears a facsimile of McIlhenny's signature.
- Dictionary of Louisiana Biography (Lafayette, La.: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana/Louisiana Historical Association, 1998), s.v., McIlhenny, Edmund.
- Shane K. Bernard, "Tabasco: Edmund McIlhenny and the Birth of a Louisiana Pepper Sauce," Louisiana Cultural Vistas (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities publication), Fall 2005.
- "TABASCO's Hot History," Morning Edition, National Public Radio (NPR), 29 November 2002.