Dear Sir: In fact, there have always been more than 57 varieties. It is a little-known principle in common law that numbers used in marketing and packaging are not required to mean anything. Thus, for example, a bag of potato chips is allowed to say “Serving size 1 oz.” in the nutrition information, even though everyone knows that one serving is the entire bag, no matter how big it is. Likewise, cans of soda are now marked with “freshness dates,” even though everyone knows that the soda in the can will be chemically the same as it is now when the sun is a cold lump of ash.
So why the number 57 when, even when the slogan “57 Varieties” was introduced, the H. J. Heinz Company offered far more than 57 different packaged food products? No less an authority than Franklin Toker, the architectural historian, has suggested that the number was burned into the mind of H. J. himself by a long period of daily commuting up the Allegheny. Riding along Butler Street, he would have crossed numbered streets—one of Pittsburgh’s three sets of numbered streets—that terminate at 57th Street, after which we decided to try something else in street names for a while. Are there 57 varieties because there are 57 streets? When we squirt Heinz ketchup on a hamburger, are we celebrating the short and narrow cross streets of Upper Lawrenceville?
For the benefit of out-of-towners who are calling up Pittsburgh on Google Maps right now, Dr. Boli should explain the presence of a 62nd Street Bridge across the Allegheny. It is so named because it crosses the river about where 62nd Street would be if there were such a thing as 62nd Street. This sort of logic makes perfect sense to a Pittsburgher. Now that Dr. Boli thinks of it, it may be a special case of that marketing and packaging principle we mentioned earlier.
Incidentally, there was a thirteenth variety. No. 13, Canned Boiled Brussels Sprouts in Chocolate Syrup, was an early introduction that was canceled after disappointing sales.