If you're thinking that you're about to hear Tabasco sauce was originally brewed as a cannon lubricant or some kind of chemical weapon, relax. The Civil War gave us Tabasco in a much more roundabout way.
Totally worth it.
Edmund McIlhenny was a self-made man, the kind of guy who picked himself up by the bootstraps, worked 12 hours a day and became a prominent New Orleans banker, just in time for the American Civil War to erupt and destroy everything he'd worked so hard to achieve.
Once Union soldiers invaded his town, McIlhenny fled with his family to his wife's home at a place called Avery Island, which wasn't actually an island at all, unless you consider a big ol' salt dome an "island." McIlhenny started a new life helping to run the family salt mines, which was actually pretty good business. The Avery Island salt mine provided the Confederacy with 22 million pounds of salt during the war, and before he knew it, McIlhenny was back on his feet!
Which was more than a lot of folks could say.
That is, until Union forces mounted an attack on his salt mine and he had to flee once more. This time they went to Texas, where the McIlhennys wisely stayed put until the end of the war. And while the cat's away, the Union soldiers will plunder your plantation and burn your crops to the ground, as the McIlhenny family discovered upon their return.
"Look men, off in the distance! Something we haven't burnt yet!"
Everything had been destroyed, Yankee-style, and the only crops that seemed to thrive in the ashy, salty soil were some pepper plants... from the Mexican state of Tabasco.
(Thunder crashes ominously in the background)
Thanks to the war, in 1868 those peppers were pretty much the only thing McIlhenny had going for him. So, he mixed them up with some Avery Island salt, vinegar, other peppers and wham! Tabasco sauce was born. He bottled his concoction in some old perfume bottles and started shipping to them grocers around the country. Two years later he got a patent, and the McIlhenny family has been running the Tabasco brand ever since.
His son went on to ride with Teddy Roosevelt, where his face played host to an impressive satellite mustache.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, war has a way of gobbling up resources. It's bad enough when you can't have a salted banana every morning for breakfast, but it's downright HELL when you can't get some silk for your pantyhose. Which is exactly what happened to American women once the Japanese decided the Americans weren't on the right side of the World War II. And remember, this is the 1940s. Women wore dresses all the damn day long, but they wanted their gams covered. Specifically, covered with silk.
This was porn in 1951.
So when Japan cut off the West from their silk, American women freaked the hell out. Women put money into grabbing the last silk pantyhose at a time when they had to grow their own food and turn over their kitchen grease for the war effort. That's how important silk was.
What can we say, priorities are priorities.
It was about that point that American ladies got good news and bad news. The good news was that back in 1935, DuPont hired the brightest chemists of the day to work on synthetic polymers to replace the silk they knew they weren't going to be able to get once Japanese relations soured, and what they came up with was nylon.
Nylon was stronger than silk and totally awesome for covering bare legs. The bad news was that, oh yeah, the war effort really needed all of America's nylon for parachutes and tires and flak vests. So the ladies got their nylon hose for about two weeks, then they were cut off once more.
But by the end of the war three different companies were producing versions of nylon, improving on the original until they could mix it with cotton fibers in order to create easy to wash, wrinkle free shirts. And more importantly, cranking out those sexy pantyhose. And we all know what happened when soldiers came home to see their wives wearing the miracle material that had saved so many lives during the war:
Nine months later, she gave birth to the first of America's most insufferable generation.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Know way too much about a random topic? Create a topic page and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!
For more modern brands created during tough times, check out 6 Global Corporations Started by Their Founder's Shitty Luck. Or learn about some inventors that fortune favored, in 5 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World.
And stop by Linkstorm (Updated Today!) to see how many Twinkies David Wong can eat in one sitting.
Or find out what happened when the Red Army listened to "Beat It."