Brownielocks and The 3 Bears

The History
 of the
Maxwell House Haggadahs


In 2014, Passover will be on April 14.  In 2014, Easter will be on April 20. Since the Jewish observance and the Christian observance are usually so close (there are times when they can be a month apart however), many confuse the two observances and think that Passover is also Easter.   The dates for each of these are determined by either the Gregorian (Easter) calendar or the Julian calendar (Passover).  I'm not going to get into the difference between these two calendars.  There's lots of information on the net about them.


So what does all of that have to do with a haggadah?   Just like the bible tells the story of Christ for the Easter season (Christians), the haggadah is a Jewish text that tells the story of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt like the Book of Exodus does in the bible.  Reading the haggadah to your children is fulfilling a scriptural commandment to teach your children about their Jewish heritage and a tradition in every Jewish household. In fact, in the 1990 Jewish Museum Exhibit "The Making of the American Jewish Home: 1870 to 1950," the Maxwell House haggadah was included because it was, and still is, considered a cultural icon.

So, how does Maxwell House coffee come into all of this?

In 1923, Maxwell House coffee became the first certified Kosher coffee to be approved for drinking during Passover.  They felt so honored, that  Maxwell House began printing out the haggadah and offering it free to their Jewish customers out of thanks and also as a promotional item. This was done with the help of an Orthodox Rabbi and The Joseph Jacobs Advertising Agency. (Note: During WWII, they did not do this for 2 years due to a paper shortage.)

This advertising promotion was the idea of Richard Jacobs, the CEO of Jacobs Advertising Agency.  Since he knew that many Eastern European Jews believed that coffee beans were like lima beans and green beans (peas and beans are not allowed to be eaten during Passover), having Maxwell House coffee certified as Kosher was a big step. At the time, General Foods (a non-Jewish company) owned Maxwell House coffee.  And, the Board Executives weren't really eager to use a Jewish prayer book, written in English (not Hebrew) to advertise their coffee.  But, when Mr. Jacobs pointed out to the Maxwell House Board that there were increased  coffee sales in Jewish neighborhoods during Passover (due to now being certified Kosher), they finally agreed to the haggadah publishing idea.

But, Mr. Jacobs went even further in his promotion.    On top of that, the Maxwell House logo was also printed on the  free haggadahs to encourage their Jewish customers to buy their product.  Mr. Jacobs was right!  Sales boomed during Passover.  The Maxwell House printed haggadah was the first of its kind:  Printed with advertising promotions and illustrations.  (Note: Other food companies soon followed.)  The first Maxwell House  haggadah publication was in 1934.

 Maxwell House is still annually printing the haggadah and offering it free in markets all over the United States.  It's considered the oldest and longest running sales promotion in the history of advertising.  Approximately 50 million copies of The Maxwell House Haggadah have been printed.  In some cases, it's even been mailed to American servicemen overseas; and, anyone else who has written and asked for a copy.   It's the most widely read  haggadah version in the world. And, in many families, the older copies are considered family heirlooms.


Sources of Information:
Haggadah on Wikipedia
U of Texas Lesson 309:  Easter, Passover, Rosh Hashanah

"America Celebrates" by Hennig Cohen and Tristram Potter Coffin
Visible Ink Press, Detroit, Michigan  © 1991


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