5 Products Named After American Places That Have Nothing to Do with Them
Just because something’s named after a place doesn’t mean it’s from there. India ink is really Chinese, Chinese checkers is really German and German chocolate cake is really American (named for a guy named “German”).
As for stuff labeled as American, and sold in America, maybe it really is American, but maybe it’s from a different part of America than it claims to be. Americans place high importance on their individual cultures, and naming something after somewhere else in America can falsely advertise it as special, just as surely as calling a clearly American salad dressing “French” or “Russian.”
Philadelphia Cream Cheese
Philadelphia cream cheese started out in New York, not Philadelphia, and it adopted the “Philadelphia” name purely for marketing. That sounds understandable even today because “New York cheese,” despite the city’s fine reputation for bagels, sounds like some kind of euphemism for bodily fluids found on a lamppost. Back in the 1800s, the branding strategy made even more sense and bordered on fraud.
Pennsylvania at the time already did produce creamy cheese, out of whole milk, and everyone loved it. New York also produced creamy cheese, but it used skim milk and tasted like dust. Philadelphia-branded cream cheese used skim milk, but the name fooled people into thinking it was Pennsylvania-quality. Then, to make the fat-deficient stuff taste good, the company just dumped in some lard.
It’s weird that the company successfully obtained a trademark on “Philadelphia” (and even on “Pennsylvania”) with regard to dairy products, when the actual Pennsylvania was also producing the stuff. Also weird: Worldwide, we now have something called Philadelphia-style cheesecake, a separate dessert from New York-style cheesecake. It didn’t originate in Philadelphia, and it doesn’t necessarily use Philadelphia cream cheese. The difference is New York-style includes sour cream or heavy cream, in addition to cheese, while Philadelphia-style doesn’t.
This is because the company behind Philadelphia cream cheese invented and distributed the no-cream recipe. The recipe ensured people used more cream cheese and then had to go buy more of the product sooner.
Texas Roadhouse was founded in Indiana, not Texas. The man behind it, Kent Taylor, was from Kentucky. But Talyor had a dream of opening a steakhouse featuring the cuisine of a different state. That state was Colorado.
He achieved that dream with a restaurant called the Buckhead Mountain Grill. But the partnership behind it fell apart, so he moved on to his next concept. We really do all dig steakhouses named for unrelated places. Just like the Florida-based Outback Steakhouse, which not only isn’t Australian — the founders never visited Australia and even deliberately avoided any Australian authenticity because they figured customers just want the name, not the real thing.
Taylor had a lot of success with Texas Roadhouse. Then he died in 2021 after what headlines called a “struggle with 'post-COVID' symptoms,” which is a technically accurate way of saying the ringing in his ears got so bad that he took his own life.
Arizona Iced Tea
Arizona Iced Tea is most famous for the refreshingly low 99 cent price on its huge cans. After that, it’s most famous from being Arizonan — but it’s not; this is another product from New York. The creator, Don Vultaggio, thought Southwest branding was a good idea because customers should be thinking of an environment in which you want to drink something cold if you expect them to buy something cold.
So, he named his iced tea “Santa Fe.” But he saw how that looked on the can and switched to Arizona instead. Santa Fe “looked like a train,” he said, which we don’t entirely understand, but he’s the expert here. Vultaggio had at the time never been to Santa Fe, or Arizona, or indeed anywhere west of the Mississippi.
The funny part in naming that iced tea after Arizona is that — according to a panel of Southerners that we convened — you wouldn’t even call that drink “iced tea” in the South. Iced tea (or ice tea) is much less sweet, or even totally unsweetened. A tea with as much sugar as Arizona Iced Tea in the South would be called “sweet tea.” Fortunately, the Arizona Beverage Company also sells a variety that they call Southern-style sweet tea. It contains even more sugar than their regular kind, with 32 grams per serving, or 64 percent of your daily sugar requirement. Go get some today for $2.78 a gallon.
Okay, “Quaker” is not actually a place. But when Quaker Mills chose their name, it evoked a place: Pennsylvania. While Quakers live all over the world, people associated the group with Pennsylvania (Quakers cast the Liberty Bell). Pennsylvania, as we already told you, had a marketable reputation for wholesomeness, as confusing as that may be for those of you today who know people from Philly.
The founders behind Quaker Oats were not from Pennsylvania. They were from Ohio, which had a fair Quaker population of its own, but either way, the founders themselves were not Quakers, just capitalizing on the image. That included the image of the Quaker Man, which many people assumed to be William Penn himself. The Quaker Oats company, depending on what mood they’re in, may or may not admit that no, that mascot depicts no real-life person in particular.
The only true fact about the Quaker Man that is also common knowledge is that when children weep, that is when he smiles and gains strength.
The Harlem Globetrotters
We’ve only been talking about food so far, for one simple reason: At the time of writing, we were quite hungry. Let’s give you one non-food story now.
The Harlem Globetrotters began in 1926 as the Chicago GlobeTrotters. Two years later, they became the New York Harlem Globetrotters. It’s routine for teams to change names, and almost always, the name change represents their changing where they’re based. Not so with the Globetrotters. When they became the New York Harlem Globetrotters (and the Harlem Globetrotters right after that), they were still headquartered in Chicago. It would be 40 years till they even visited Harlem.
The “Harlem” in the name was chosen just to advertise that these players were Black. That was much more of a novelty back then than it is now, as the NBA wouldn’t admit any Black players until the 1950s.
The Globetrotters take credit for getting the NBA to integrate, by the way. They took credit in a letter they wrote two years ago this week, requesting to stop being just an exhibition team and to actually become part of the NBA. The NBA never accepted that request. It seems that after reading it, they immediately dropped it in the basket.