Wolf Brand Chili
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History of the brand
In 1895, a Mexican range cook working for Lyman T. Davis of Corsicana, Texas developed the original recipe for Wolf Brand Chili. It became popular so Mr. Davis began to sell it for five cents a bowl from the back of a wagon parked on the streets in downtown Corsicana, usually in front of the Blue Front Saloon. He owned a meat market in Corsicana where he sold his chili in brick form, using the brand name "Lyman's Famous Chili."
In 1921, using the simplest machinery, Davis began canning his chili and marketing it in the immediate area. It was about that time that he adopted the brand name "Lyman's Famous Wolf Brand Chili," a name suggested to him in honor of his pet wolf, Kaiser Bill. By 1923, with improved equipment, Davis had increased production to 2,000 cans of chili per day.
Because of the discovery of oil on his ranch, he had neither the time nor the interest to devote to his chili business, so in 1924 he sold his operations to Frederick Charles Thatcher "Fred" Slauson, a WWI Army Air Force veteran, who worked for James Cleveland "J. C." West, owner of the City Book Store in Corsicana, advertised as "The Largest Book Store in Texas." Slauson was asked because he had unusually fine mechanical skills and was "borrowed" by Davis regularly to repair the cranky canning machinery. Davis apparently felt he should sell only to someone who would keep the business running smoothly. However, Slauson needed a financial partner. He chose the owner of the well-known local "George's Grill," a popular steak house. Spiros Georgas (Georgiakis), a hard-working Greek immigrant, knew the food business and Slauson could keep the machinery working. The local bank they applied to for the loan to purchase the chili business, however, wouldn't loan the men the $6,000. So Slauson asked his employer and friend J. C. West to join him in the business. Before going into the book store business, West had worked for years for Armour Meats in Dallas, Texas, so he already knew something about the food business. It was agreed, therefore, that the two men would become partners. West and his oldest son Doyle Lyndon West began working at Wolf Brand along with Slauson, leaving younger son James Tinkle West to run the book store.
The new owners modernized production and introduced new marketing techniques. Among the most successful innovations introduced by West and Slauson was a Model T Ford truck with a cab shaped like a can and painted to resemble the Wolf Brand label. A live wolf was caged in the back of the truck. The vehicle not only provided practical transportation for company salesmen but also was an effective traveling advertisement for their products.
During World War II, Slauson again enlisted in the Army Air Force. West's son James was also drafted. During the length of the war, J. C. sent a case of chili and tamales without charge to any service person whose name was sent to him. Cold, worn-out soldiers warmed chili in their helmets all over Europe.
In 1950, Fred Slauson, a gifted artist, sold his half of the company to Doyle and James West then moved to New Mexico to paint. In 1954 the Corsicana company expanded into interstate markets, having previously distributed its products only in Texas.
In 1957 Quaker Oats of Chicago purchased Wolf Brand from then owners Doyle and James West. Quaker Oats continued to operate the Corsicana plant, streamlining Davis's original recipe. In 1977 Wolf Brand, along with other chili manufacturers, successfully lobbied the Texas legislature to have chili proclaimed the official "state food" of Texas.
In an effort to consolidate its operations, Quaker Oats closed the Corsicana plant in 1985 and merged its operations with another subsidiary, Stokley-Van Camp, in Dallas. It was a sad and unpopular move for the community. The latest owner of the company is Con-Agra Foods and the chili is no longer even made in Texas.
Davis died in 1954, Slauson in 1962, and West in 1963. All three are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana. Doyle and Doris Newton West had two sons and a daughter: Conan Doyle West, Patricia Ann West and Jay Conrad West. James and Lois Toone West had three daughters, Dianne Sherrard West, Joanne Tinkle West and Bonnie Rebecca West. Doyle died in 1997 and James died in 2002.
Its trademarked slogan, "Neighbor, how long has it been since you had a big, thick, steaming bowl of Wolf Brand Chili? Well, that's too long!" is familiar to many Texans and has been quoted over the years on numerous web sites discussing fond memories of the product or how to acquire it outside the state. More recently, many former devotees have complained of a serious drop in quality after a reformulation of ingredients and a change in manufacturing processes by cost-conscious ConAgra product managers.
Memorable stories claim that Will Rogers was also a great fan of Wolf Brand chili and flew into Corsicana whenever possible to obtain the product (which was not sold outside Texas until 1954). The owners would drive cases out to the local airfield to load onto his plane.
- http://spiritofthebaker.com/wall_of_fame.htm Spirit of the Baker: Wall of Fame
- https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/diw01 The Handbook of Texas Online, "Wolf Brand Chili"