The Trouble with TriscuitsRoundup
tags: food history, historian, advertising history, consumer history
Charles Louis Richter is a historian of American religion and social movements. He lives in Baltimore and is currently researching actual government conspiracies.
On March 25, Sage Boggs shocked the twittersphere with his revelation that the brand name Triscuit was a portmanteau of “electricity” and “biscuit.” In a time when seemingly all anyone can talk about is the coronavirus pandemic, Boggs’s thread provided some much-needed levity and excitement. It elicited a statement from Triscuit’s official Twitter account: “We had to go all the way up the ladder but we CAN confirm.” The account even added a lightning bolt to its username and changed its bio to “elecTRIcity biSCUIT.”
But do we really know Boggs is right?
Let’s acknowledge the work that Boggs did to satisfy his curiosity: he came up with an initial theory, contacted the company, and sought out primary-source documents—all tactics that a historian would use to develop an argument. Triscuit’s confirmation of the theory satisfies many that Boggs’s theory is correct, and it also helps that the theory is the sort of surprising factoid people love to share at parties. But if a historian wants to make this sort of claim about individual people’s intentions over a century ago, then much clearer evidence is needed.
The electricity biscuit thesis is certainly plausible. It is supported by some of the early ads, as well as by the manufacturing process. The Natural Food Company invented a way to spin wheat into threads that could then be cooked and woven into biscuits—which we know as Shredded Wheat today—or cooked again in an electric oven to make Triscuits. In 1903, Triscuit ads proclaimed that Triscuits were the first commercial bread product to be “baked by electricity.” Some of the earliest designs even incorporated lightning bolts into the lettering of “Triscuit.”1