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 of Lyman's Famous Chili.
In 1921, using the simplest machinery, he began canning his chili and marketing it in the immediate area. It was about that time that he adopted the brand name "Wolf Brand," 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, and in 1924 he sold his operations to J. C. West and Fred Slauson, two Corsicana businessmen.
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, with son James West and partner Fred in the Army Air Force, J. C. sent a case of chili and tamales without charge to any service person whose name was sent to him. In 1950, Fred Slauson, a gifted artist, sold his half of the company to Doyle and James West, the sons of J. C. West. He moved to New Mexico to paint. In 1954 the 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, sons of J. C. 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 sadly unpopular move for the community. The latest owner of the company is Con-Agra Foods and the chili is no longer made in Texas.
Lyman Davis died in 1954. J. C. West died in 1963. Fred Slauson died in 1962. All three are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana. Doyle and Doris West had two sons and a daughter: Conan, Patricia and Jay. Doyle died in 1997. James and Lois West had three daughters, Dianne, Joanne and Bonnie. 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 a great fan of Wolf Brand and flew in to Corsicana whenever possible to obtain the product (which was not sold outside Texas until 1954). The owners would drive cases out to the local airport to load into his plane.
- http://spiritofthebaker.com/wall_of_fame.htm Spirit of the Baker: Wall of Fame
- http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/diw01 The Handbook of Texas Online, "Wolf Brand Chili"