Oriental Show-You Bottle: Soy Sauce from the Brody/Emmons Dump

"Oriental Show-You" bottle from Emmons Amphitheater.

“Oriental Show-You” bottle from Emmons Amphitheater

This semester two of the CAP undergrad interns are re-examining bottles recovered from the Brody Hall/Emmons Amphitheater area.  Way back in 2009 and 2011 construction around the dorms revealed many historic bottles.  That’s because, as Mari pointed out in her last post, the dormitory complex is built above the old East Lansing city landfill.  One bottle from the Emmons Amphitheater area caught my attention.  This brown octagonal bottle was embossed “Oriental Show-You”, a early 20th century soy sauce.  Show-You is a play on the Japanese word for soy sauce; shoyu (醤油).

Today soy sauce is common place in many American refrigerators, sitting right along side our ketchup and mustard. Although soy products are varied and plentiful today, soy sauce is the best known product made from the soy bean.  However, to begin to understand how soy sauce became an everyday product in America (or how to unfold how a soy sauce bottle may have come to East Lansing in the 1920s), it’s necessary to take a step back and talk about Chinese cuisine.  Now you might be thinking, but wait you just said that the soy sauce company name was based on a Japanese word, why are we talking about Chinese food?  Well, to begin to understand soy sauce, you need to think about Chop Suey.

Close up of bottle embossing, "Oriental Show-You"

Close up of bottle embossing, “Oriental Show-You”

"Oriental Show-You" bottle base

“Oriental Show-You” bottle base

Japanese food/restaurants are common parts of the American palate today.  You can go to most any larger grocery store and buy prepared sushi. Packaged ramen is a mainstay of the American college student diet and budget (last year the U.S. consumed over 4 billion servings of instant noodles).  However, Japanese food didn’t gain widespread popularity in the U.S. until the 1980s.

Chinese cuisine, however, gained its foothold at the turn of the 20th century with the emergency of Chop Suey joints.  Chop Suey is composed of celery, bean sprouts, and meat simmered in a tasty brown sauce and served over rice.  Although its exact origin is clouded in mystery (stories have Chinese chefs in both San Francisco and New York inventing it), the dishes’ popularity quickly grew and the fad spread across the country.  Like many popular Chinese dishes in the United States, this particular dish wasn’t actually Chinese.  However, adaptation of Chinese cooking to American palates was crucial in the proliferation and popularization of Chinese cuisine in the U.S., and it worked!  Today, according to the Chinese American Restaurant Association, there are over 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. (time.com).

Cover of Oriental Show-You recipe book, circa early 1920s. Recipe book owned by MSU Special Collections.

Cover of Oriental Show-You recipe book, circa early 1920s. Recipe book owned by MSU Special Collections.

In 1918 the Oriental Show-You Company was founded in Detroit by Shinzo Ohki, a recent immigrant from Japan. The company began by importing shoyu (soy sauce) and tea from China.  In 1922 Mr. Ohki traveled back to Japan to learn the traditional natural fermentation method of making shoyu.  After returning to the U.S. (later that year) he moved his business to Columbia City, Indiana.  By 1924 he was bottling his own brand of shoyu, along with canned mung bean sprouts, chow mein noodles, chop suey, and Jigg’s corn beef and cabbage (Shurtleff & Aoyago 2012).  The company was making 12,000 gallons of shoyu a year, which was mostly sold in the Midwest and only east of the Mississippi River (Yates 1998:775). At it’s peak the company was making 30,000 gallons of soy sauce per year. The factory closed in the early 1960s when the company was acquired by Beatrice Food Inc, later becoming a part of La Choy food products. (Shurtleff & Aoyago 2012).

Recipe for chop suey from early 1920s Oriental Show-You book. Book owned by MSU Special Collections.

Recipe for chop suey from early 1920s Oriental Show-You book. Book owned by MSU Special Collections.

Oriental Show-You sauce wasn’t originally marketed as soy sauce, because the average American consumer didn’t know what soy sauce was at the time.  It was marketed both as chop suey sauce, and a sauce that could be used in many American dishes. Although we at CAP agree, we’re not sure how well soy sauce worked in fruit salad.

Fruit Salad recipe from Oriental Show-You recipe book circa late 1920s. Book owned by MSU Special Collections.

Fruit Salad recipe from Oriental Show-You recipe book circa late 1920s. Book owned by MSU Special Collections.

We don’t have a precise date on our bottle, but it’s likely from 1919-1929 since it has an Owen’s machine production suction scar (SHA).  So, what does the presence of this bottle tell us about life in East Lansing at this time?  Although the Oriental Show-You company was sold mostly in Asian grocery stores (Shurtleff & Akkiko 2012), it was also being marketed to American oriented grocery stores and housewives. So although cooking Chinese cuisine at home didn’t become common in most American kitchens until the 1950s (Mendelson 2016), it’s possible that this bottle originated from many different types of households.  Either way, this bottle is an interesting peak into the Americanization of international cuisine, and life in early 20th century East Lansing.





History of Soy Sauce – 160 CE – 2012 compiled by William Shurtleff & Akkiko Aoyago Soyinfo Center 2012

Yates, Ronald 1998 History of Oriental Show-You Co. in Columbia City, Indiana in The Kikkoman Chronics.

Mendelson, Anne. 2016 Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey.



Oriental “Show-You” Recipes – MSU Special Collections Rare Books (TX724.5.A1 O757 1920) and (TX724.5.A1 O757 1910)


Let’s Ketchup: Curtice Brothers Preservers Ketchup Bottles from the Gunson Assemblage

Ketchup can be found in 97% of American kitchens. Think about that for a moment, 97%! Some people can’t imagine eating a French fry, hot dog, or hamburger without it. The only condiment/sauce used more here on campus is most likely ranch dressing (I was told once that each cafeteria goes through several gallons a day). As beloved as ketchup is in America, it’s origin lies elsewhere. It originally was not the thick, sweet, tomato based condiment we think of today. The original precursors to what we know as ketchup was a fermented fish sauce popular across South East Asian, known as “keo-cheup”. The earliest known western recipes for ketchup were published in the UK in the 18th century (possibly the 1758 cookbook The Complete Housewife), and were made from kidney beans, mushrooms, anchovies, and walnuts. Early colonists in North America adapted these recipes to later include tomatoes, and the first known recipe for tomato ketchup made its debut in 1812.

1899 Curtice Brothers Ketchup Ad - Image Source

1899 Curtice Brothers Ketchup Ad – Image Source

The popularity of tomato ketchup really took off following the Civil War. In fact, an 1891 issue of Merchant’s Review boasts that ketchup was the “sauce of sauces”, and in 1896 the New York Tribune declared tomato ketchup as America’s national condiment.Today ketchup is nearly synonymous with the Heinz Company, but they haven’t always cornered the market. At the beginning of the 20th century one of their biggest competitors was Curtice Brothers Preservers Blue Label Ketchup.

After cataloging two units from the Gunson/Admin assemblage we have identified at least eight Curtice Brothers Ketchup bottles. Having large amounts of condiment bottles in a historic assemblage is not surprising, but we have been surprised to find so many of the same brand. Brothers Simeon and Edgar Curtice founded Curtice Brothers Co. Preservers Rochester, New York in 1868. The canning business was created to save surplus vegetables and fruits that they could not sell in their small grocery store. By the early 1900s they were one of the largest ketchup and preserves producing firms, and continued production into the late 1960s. The specific bottles we have been recovering from the Gunson assemblage date from the early 1890s to the mid 1920s.

Curtice Brothers Preservers Ketchup Bottle Embossed Mark

Curtice Brothers Preservers Ketchup Bottle Embossed Mark

Base of Curtice Brothers Ketchup Bottle

Base of Curtice Brothers Ketchup Bottle

The Curtice Brothers blue label line helped distinguish their bottle from other competitors. In the early 1900s they were equally as popular as Heinz. So what happened? Why did their brand fall out of popularity? That answer lies in the benzoate food wars.

The pure food and drug act of 1906 was the first series of significant consumer protection laws enacted by Congress that also led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The act served to ban foreign and interstate distribution of adulterated and mislabeled food and drug products. It required active ingredients to be placed on the product label. During this time benzoate was a preservative widely used in condiments, and the pure food law outlawed its use in food products due to health concerns.   On one side of the ketchup establishment were those such as the Curtice Brothers that believed that it was impossible to make ketchup without the additive, and that it was not harmful in the small amounts used in their products. On the other side were manufacturers, like Heinz, that believed they could solve the preservative issues with modern science. They began to make ketchup with ripe tomatoes, increasing the amount of vinegar, and charging more, but offering a money back guarantee. Multiple lawsuits were filed by the Curtice Brothers Company fighting the ban, but their protests ultimately failed. The benzoate ketchups slowly disappeared from the market. By 1915 the Curtice Brothers Blue Label Ketchup had fallen out of favor, due to their insistence at using benzoates.

The benzoate content now appears on the bottle label in this 1910 ad - Image Source

The benzoate content now appears on the bottle label in this 1910 ad – Image Source

The Curtice Brothers Ketchup thus far dominates our known condiments from the Gunson house. We have only one other ketchup bottle, Sniders Homemade Catsup from Cincinnati. Did the Gunsons love their ketchup? Perhaps. But the large number of bottles in this trash pit, specifically repeats of the same bottle type (such as the M.A.C. Dairy bottles) makes me suspect that Professor Gunson may have been saving and reusing the bottles, potentially in his experimental greenhouse. There also has not been a single paper label, complete or fragment, on any of these bottles. We will most likely never known for sure why there are so many ketchup bottles, but it’s always fun to investigate a small slice of the past.



Smith, Andrew. 1996 “Pure Ketchup: A History of America’s National Condiment, with Recipes”.