Baking Powder Wars

The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking
Author: Linda Civitello
A microhistory of America's main ingredient
Cloth – $110
Paper – $19.95
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 06/12/2017
Cloth: 06/12/2017
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About the Book

First patented in 1856, baking powder sparked a classic American struggle for business supremacy. For nearly a century, brands battled to win loyal consumers for the new leavening miracle, transforming American commerce and advertising even as they touched off a chemical revolution in the world's kitchens.

Linda Civitello chronicles the titanic struggle that reshaped America's diet and rewrote its recipes. Presidents and robber barons, bare-knuckle litigation and bold-faced bribery, competing formulas and ruthless pricing--Civitello shows how hundreds of companies sought market control, focusing on the big four of Rumford, Calumet, Clabber Girl, and the once-popular brand Royal. She also tells the war's untold stories, from Royal's claims that its competitors sold poison, to the Ku Klux Klan's campaign against Clabber Girl and its German Catholic owners.

Exhaustively researched and rich with detail, Baking Powder Wars is the forgotten story of how a dawning industry raised Cain--and cakes, cookies, muffins, pancakes, donuts, and biscuits.

About the Author

Linda Civitello teaches food history in southern California. She is the author of Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People, winner of the Gourmand Award for Best Food History Book in the World in English (U.S.).


"Civitello connects the story of baking powder to much larger themes in American history, offering illuminating insights into how racial prejudices influenced branding and marketing practices in the baking powder industry. . . . Foodies and culinary enthusiasts will find much to mine."--The Wall Street Journal

"Food historian Civitello tells a complicated and sordid tale of corporate mischief that will surprise many readers."--Booklist

"[A] meticulously researched history."--Orlando Weekly

"Readers interested in food and business will appreciate this well-researched book. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice

"Well written and insightful, Baking Powder Wars is a model of superb scholarship and is essential reading for a wide spectrum of scholars, including those interested in food studies, women's studies, American studies, business, and advertising." --Journal of American Culture


"A provocative and gripping story of industrial espionage, nineteenth century business barons, and baking powder. Linda Civitello has a rare talent for pitch-perfect storytelling. This is not just a food lover's book, but will also appeal to anyone interested in economics and history. Foodies, meanwhile, will savor the fascinating facts, tantalizing trivia, and action and intrigue sprinkled throughout. You'll savor every crumb!"--Francine Segan, author of Dolci: Italy's Sweets

"A thrilling tale of food business, especially the wonderful chapter seven, about the shenanigans of corrupt businessmen and politicians.”--Bruce Kraig, coeditor of The Chicago Food Encyclopedia

"Who knew that baking powder has such a complex history, one full of political intrigue, gender wars, health scares, and race relations? In this meticulously researched and entertainingly told book, Linda Civitello chronicles the evolution of home baking in America, along the way highlighting the roles of figures like Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln Steffens in abetting baking powder’s successful rise."--Darra Goldstein, founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture

"Baking Powder Wars is an insightful and fascinating account of the advent and subsequent struggle for legitimacy of one of today’s most widely used ingredients in both home and commercial baking. Linda Civitello succeeds in making what might have been an academically dry topic come alive with erudition, grace, and humor."--Nick Malgieri, author of Bake!

"It's just an innocuous white powder in a can at the back of the closet. Or is it? Linda Civitello’s history shows how baking powder precipitated vicious competition in big business, raised concerns about chemical adulterants in food, and transformed home cooking. Without baking powder, there would be no fluffy cakes and pancakes, no biscuits, no muffins, and no cookies, in short, no American cuisine as we know it."--Rachel Laudan, author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History

"With Baking Powder Wars, Linda Civitello takes her readers on an interesting and learned journey about a little-known subject: The history of leavening agents. I'm grateful for this detailed backstory on what makes bread rise to the occasion."--Adrian Miller, author of the James Beard Award-winning book Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time

"Linda Civitello has mined her subject thoroughly and documented how it changed American baking to satisfy our hurry-up attitude toward life and food in general, as we embraced a quick and easy solution to the tiresome problem of supplying the family table. Along the way, Civitello records in detail the fundamental history of a business that is almost uniquely American--the baking powder business. Who knew that baking powder could be such a rich resource?"--Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil

"Baking powder was not a topic high on my interest level before I read this book, but I'm fascinated by the subject now. A great job of getting into the topic and placing it in a broader perspective."--Andrew F. Smith, editor of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America


• Included in "The Ten Best Books about Food of 2017,"