ASK DR. BOLI.

Dear Dr. Boli: Is it true that Heinz in fact has only fifty-six varieties; however, H.J. was so superstitious, he insisted on skipping over the number thirteen, resulting in a count of 57 varieties? —Signed, Amanamed Sali.

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.

Comments

  1. OHBridgeGuy says:

    I thought I could peruse the good Doctor’s site in anonymity, so imagine my surprise today when I visited the site and saw my face looking back at me from the corner of a map of Pittsburgh! It felt like seeing oneself in a poster at the Post Office.

    Now I am trying desperately to recall whether I paid that parking ticket from my last visit to Squirrel Hill…

    • Dr. Boli says:

      Dr. Boli does not see your face on the map; only you do. Google, on the other hand, knows everything about you. Perhaps you should pay the parking ticket directly to Google.

  2. RepubAnon says:

    Perhaps the label should be corrected to “At least 57 varieties” for accuracy.

  3. RS Colby says:

    Dr. Boli,
    You note the existence of a 62nd Street Bridge across the Allegheny. However, when I zoom in on the google map you so kindly provide, the bridge is clearly labeled “Sixty-Second Street Bridge”.
    Perhaps this refers to the time required to cross the bridge by bicycle.

    Kinest regards,
    RSC

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