Tillie Ehrlich-Weisberg Lewis (July 13, 1896 - April 30, 1977, was the first female Captain of Industry in America introduced the Italian pomodoro tomato to the Stockton, California area and established tomato and multiple agricultural products can in both the San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties. She grew her company to become the fifth largest canning business in the United States by 1950. She changed hiring practices during the 1930s Great Depression by inviting people of all races, gender and faith into her workforce. She hired based on loyalty, good character, and willingness to work. She brought many Americans from field workers firmly into middle class. Tillie brought the world the first American Medical Association approved diet and diet products into grocery stores and high-end hotel menus, the Tasti-Diet, becoming wealthy beyond her dreams.
Born Myrtle Ehrlich, she grew up in Brooklyn, New York and stated she worked in the garment district at the age of 14, when it is more likely she was a minor showgirl in the Ziegfeld Follies meeting Fannie Brice and many other people in show business retaining their friendship .(revised by Tillie Lewis :The Tomato Queen by Kyle Elizabeth Wood, 2016, available on Amazon.com.
Her first husband, Louis Weisberg a partner in Tillies brother-in-law's wholesale grocery business, Mosalina Products, imported pomodoro tomatoes from Italy along with many other delicacies. After their marriage broke up, Tillie became a successful Stockbroker on Wallstreet and looked into growing the pomodoro in America. In 1930, the federal government raised the tariff on imported tomato products by 50%. Florindo del Gaizo, the part-owner of a Naples cannery, who was worried about losing his American customers, became her primary investor. She settled on Stockton, California to grow the tomatoes. After persuading farmers in area to experiment raising the tomatoes, she talked Pacific Can Company into building a plant at Stockton, with an option for her to buy it. By 1940, she had made San Joaquin County the top tomato-producing county in the United States.
TILLIE and del Gaizo formed the Flotill Foods Corporation. When del Gaszio died in 1937, Tillie borrowed money and became the sole owner of Flotill Foods. Over the next decade, she began canning spinach and asparagus and built more canning plants. Flotill also canned fruits, baby food and juices. During the Korean War, Flotill was the largest supplier of Army C-Rations in the nation.
Tillie met Meyer Lewis, an American Federation of Labor organizer, in 1940 as workers tried to unionize her factories. Tillie married Lewis seven years later and established Tasti-Diet Foods in 1952. Tasti-Diet Foods became one of the earliest marketers of artificially sweetened fruits and soft drinks.
In 1951, Tillie named "businesswoman of the year" by the Associated Press. She changed the name of her company to Tillie Lewis Foods and began selling shares on the American Stock Exchange in 1961. Tillie Lewis Foods merged with Ogden Foods (now part of Pet, Inc.) of New York City in 1966 and Ehrlich was elected Ogden Foods first woman director. By 1971, Tillie Lewis Foods had sales of over $90 million per year.
Tillie was the first female sea port ccommissioner. A first to think globally regarding food production to fight world hunger and population control, she was lauded for her non-discrimanatory hiring practices, major innovation in food production and advertising.
She was an advisor to world leaders and a popular personality speaking to thousands around the globe about success.
Information revised from the biography Tillie Lewis : The Tomato Queen, 2016. Author Kyle Elizabeth Wood. Available on Amazon.com.
- Jeanne E. Abrams. Jewish women pioneering the frontier trail: a history in the American West. NYU Press, 2006. p 115.
- "CORPORATIONS: Tillie's Unpunctured Romance" TIME, Nov. 19, 1951.
- "Tillie opens cannery for American-grown Italian tomatoes" Jewish Women's Archive