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by Ashley Howell
How has geography influenced your Thanksgiving traditions? As you prepare for this Thanksgiving, the recipes and techniques you use to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey could have been influenced by a corporate entity that sold aluminum cookware – and its attraction to the geography of Tennessee – more than one hundred years ago.
ALCOA in Tennessee
The Aluminum Corporation of America, later renamed ALCOA, was founded in in 1888 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By 1909, the company began purchasing land in Tennessee. In order to expand operations and increase production for cost-efficiency, it need more electricity. Tennessee offered an attractive energy solution.
Aluminum, which soon became a material associated with modernity and the machine age, required large quantities of electricity for its manufacture. It took 10 kilowatt hours of electricity to produce one pound of aluminum. This amount of electricity could keep a 40-watt light burning continually for more than ten days. To reduce the cost of aluminum, ALCOA needed to increase the availability of electricity.
The electricity in Tennessee came in the form of the powerful rivers and tributaries within the regional geography. ALCOA first began to use hydroelectric energy with a contract with the Niagara Falls Power Company in 1893. However, the available power still failed to meet the growing needs of the company. Inspired by the early hydroelectric power companies in Tennessee, ALCOA began purchasing land in Tennessee nearly three decades before the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Interior view of a man operating machinery at the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) Aluminum Plant (Tennessee State Library and Archives)
North Maryville, Tennessee, later to be named Alcoa, became a company town. This area supported the growing workforce who developed the dam system, including the Calderwood Dam, and constructed the aluminum plant. On November 8, 1920, the first aluminum sheet was shipped from ALCOA’s new mill in the town of Alcoa. By 1933, aluminum sheets represented 31% of aluminum sales. The making of cookware and utensils from aluminum sheet helped to lead this demand.
Developing Market: Aluminum Cookware
Where demand typically drives a market, in ALCOA’s case, the company needed to create demand by demonstrating use of this new material. Enter the kitchen cookware and utensil market, which from the 1890s into the twentieth century, became the fastest growing use of aluminum. In 1901, the Aluminum Cooking Utensil Company, a subsidiary of ALCOA, was formed to support this growth by directly producing products as part of the popular Wear-Ever line. However, early sales of aluminum cookware was hampered by the fact that users did not know how to care for or use the products. ALCOA developed a sales team to show and sell kitchen products to consumers through cooking and care demonstrations. By 1912, ALCOA had 75% share of the entire aluminum cookware and cooking utensil market.
Life magazine advertisement for Wear-Ever, 1940
Pink aluminum cream and sugar set made by Color Craft, using Alcoa Aluminum. Note the declaration, "We Chose Alcoa Aluminum" (Tennessee State Museum Collection, 2003.48.10)
In the ninth edition of The Wear-Ever New Method of Cooking instruction book, published by the Aluminum Cooking Utensil Company in 1937, homemakers were provided recipes on how to prepare many of their favorite meals while being introduced to the benefits of cooking with aluminum cookware. The cookbook, given at cooking demonstrations, also illustrated the use of these products using coal, gas, or electric methods of cooking as many home cooks still used a variety of means to prepare family meals.
A display in the Museum's Change and Challenge gallery explores the advent of electric kitchens in Tennessee history
While the company also expanded in other markets, including construction and transportation, aluminum cookware remained a stable market for ALCOA. The Wear-Ever line satisfied a need for broad utilitarian use, while a later line, New Kensington designed by industrial designer Lurelle Guild, appealed to an art deco and modern aesthetic. Later, colorized or anodized aluminum was used in midcentury designs.
Miniature Alcoa Wrap Aluminum Foil, likely for a doll house (Tennessee State Museum collection, 2004.137.2993)
Whether you are using a Wear-Ever No. 2225 roaster or a No. 1410 pot this Thanksgiving, or reach for aluminum foil to wrap your leftovers, be sure to think about how Tennessee and Tennesseans helped to shape the aluminum industry and influenced our Thanksgiving traditions today.
Recipe from The Wear-Ever New Method of Cooking instruction book, The Aluminum Cooking Utensil Company, New Kensington, PA, Ninth Edition, 1937. Download a PDF of some of the pages here.
Cover and recipes from the ninth edition of The Wear-Ever New Method of Cooking (1937) Download a PDF of some of the pages here.
NEW METHOD ROAST TURKEY
Salt and Pepper
Wash, singe, and draw the bird, rub with salt and pepper inside and out, and stuff with turkey stuffing.
Truss and tie the fowl. Grease it well, dredge with flour and place on rack in No. 2225 roaster which has been preheated 15 minutes.
Sear the entire bird well, then reduce heat to medium and continue roasting 20 minutes to the pound.
½ pound pork shoulder
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons onion, minced
2 tablespoons parsley
1 cup diced raw apple
½ cup seedless raisins
4 cups bread diced
½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Stew pork until tender. Cut into small pieces.
Melt butter in No. 1410, cook celery, onion, and parsley in butter three minutes. Add apple and raisins.
Add bread and seasonings.
Stuff turkey and sew up.
Ashley Howell is the executive director of the Tennessee State Museum
 Charles Carr. Alcoa: An American Enterprise. Rinehart, 1952, p. 85.
 See “Aluminum Co. of America,” Fortune, September 1934, p. 111
 George David Smith. From Monopoly to Competition: The Transformations of Alcoa, 1888-1986. Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 84.
 Carr. p. 167
 Carr. p. 112
 Smith. p. 86.
 The Wear-Ever Cookbook: New Method of Cooking Instruction Book, The Aluminum Cooking Utensil Company, New Kensington, PA, Ninth Edition, 1937.