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German immigrant Oscar F. Mayer (1859–1955) began working at a meat market in Detroit, Michigan, and later in Chicago, Illinois. In the year 1883, Oscar and his brother Gottfried, leased the Kolling Meat Market on the near-northside of Chicago. The Mayer brothers sold bratwurst, liverwurst, and weißwurst which was popular in the predominantly German neighborhoods around their Chicago meat market.
As the meat market's popularity grew, it expanded its storefront and participated in sponsoring local events including the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. By 1900, the company had 43 employees and Chicago-wide delivery service. In 1904, Oscar Mayer began branding its meats to capitalize on their popularity, beginning an industry-wide trend. Early company specialties were "Old World" sausages and Westphalian hams, soon followed by bacon and wieners. In 1906, Oscar Mayer & Co. was among the first to volunteer to join the newly created federal meat inspection program. In 1919, the company made its first major expansion, with the purchase of a processing plant in Madison, Wisconsin. The plant quickly proved to be a profitable, efficient operation and eventually Madison became the corporate headquarters.
For nearly a century, Oscar Mayer remained an independent company owned primarily by descendants of the Mayer brothers who started it. Then in 1981, Oscar Mayer stockholders elected to sell their company to General Foods Corporation, which had the resources to stimulate even further growth for the business. Four years later, Philip Morris Companies, Inc. acquired General Foods Corporation, and in 1989 merged General Foods with the newly acquired Kraft, Inc.
Shares of Kraft foods were first offered to the public via an initial public offering in 2001. Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris & Companies) spun off remaining shares of Kraft Foods to Altria shareholders in 2007. April 2, 2007 marked Kraft's first day trading as an independent company on the New York Stock Exchange.
Oscar Mayer is also famous for their Wienermobile, which has toured the United States for over 70 years. The first Wienermobile was created in 1936.
Oscar Mayer had several advertisements on TV involving young children, including the Oscar Mayer Wiener ad in 1965. The commercial shows a young girl leading a group of children, singing about what they'd get if they "were an Oscar Mayer wiener".
A 1974 TV commercial featured four-year-old Andy Lambros holding a fishing rod and sandwich while singing, "My bologna has a first name, it's 'O-S-C-A-R'..." It became one of the longest-running TV commercials in the country.