What Ever Happened to the Giant Presto Whip Cans in Dearborn?
I will be the first to admit that I have an obsession with large oversized foods. It's kind of my "thing". What all started with the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile has now grown to include the Big Banana Car of Kalamazoo and beyond.
Hobby, obsession, problem--whatever you want to call it-- my love of these oversized creations is not limited to foods on wheels. My curiosity was immediately piqued when I saw an old photo of these giant whipped cream cannisters that used to sit outside the Presto Whip factory in Dearborn. Whatever happened to them and why were they taken down?
"The Miracle Cream from the Soybean"
I had no idea there was so much whipped topping history in Michigan! The story goes that during World War II, a time when milk and dairy products were rationed, a former dairy farmer named Bob Rich was working in the Great Lakes region monitoring milk consumption as a consultant for the federal government. Yeah, that was a thing. Rich got word about a process used to derive milk entirely from plants that was developed in Dearborn by Henry Ford's Carver Laboratory. A million dollar idea during a time when milk was in short supply!
Bob Rich was able to license the soybean process from Ford's laboratory for $1 a year and eventually founded his own corporation. According to Detroit History Revealed in 1944 Rich was able to develop, "one of the world's earliest and most popular commercial food products to use isolated soy protein as a significant ingredient" and he called it Rich's Whip Topping.
Rich's whip topping became a best-seller across the country, especially in southern states where milk was quick to spoil in the extreme heat. However, Rich had no idea that several former Ford researchers had developed a similar idea. Bob Smith and Herbert Marshall Taylor introduced a similar topping in 1945, Delsoy, another soymilk-based non-dairy whip topping. Often referred to as, "America's earliest known commercial non-dairy whip topping" Delsoy was made in Dearborn and was most commonly used in the Detroit-area restaurant trade eventually making its way into retail stores in New York.
The Delsoy factory was located at 2023 South Telegraph at Harvard Street in Dearborn, MI. Using a modified previous design, Delsoy's newly coined "Presto Whip" became the first soy-based product in a pressurized can with a valve of any food product. Eventually Delsoy and Presto Whip were bought out by Whitehouse Products Inc. who decided to erect the giant Presto Whip cans sometime in the 1960s.
What Happened to the Cans?
Several silos sat outside the Whitehouse factory in Dearborn. Used to store soybean oil and sugar, the company decided to use them as a marketing tool to advertise the locally made product. The 30 foot cannisters sat along Telegraph Rd for nearly twenty years until Whitehouse Products and the Presto Whip trademark were sold to C.J. Christoff and sons of Lowell.
I wish those giant Presto Whip cannisters still sat there. What a great photo op! The former Whitehouse Products Inc. building is now a car dealership.