Not on MY Biscuit!

Do you use butter in your home, or do you prefer margarine? The stakes involved in this question may seem rather low, but that’s not how dairy farmers saw things when margarine came on the scene in the 1870s. They were accustomed, after all, to selling most of the nation’s butter that wasn’t being produced at home. In Florida and elsewhere, the question of whether and how to regulate margarine ultimately fell to lawmakers to decide, resulting in a real 19th century “bitter butter battle.”

Edvis Newton stands with a Kraft margarine display at a Jitney Jungle store in Tallahassee (1947). Who knew such a popular product had such a contentious history?

Edvis Newton stands with a Parkay margarine display at a Jitney Jungle store in Tallahassee (1947). Who knew such a popular product had such a contentious history?

A French chemist named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès invented margarine in the 1860s in response to a contest sponsored by Emperor Napoleon III to develop a suitable substitute for butter. The emperor hoped the winning substance could be used by the lower classes and the French military. Mège-Mouriès called his solution “oleomargarine.” The “oleo” part came from the Latin oleum (oil), since one of the major components of the product was beef tallow. The “margarine” part of the name came from the margaric acid used in creating the compound. The term “margaric” is adapted from the Greek word márgaron, meaning “pearl” or “pearl-oyster,” since the fatty acid naturally forms small white pearl-shaped droplets.

Mège-Mouriès patented his new product and marketed it under the trade name “margarine.” The idea caught on well enough to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and by 1871 inventors were already seeking patents for margarine production processes in the United States. Meatpackers were some of margarine’s most enthusiastic proponents, since the new product gave them something profitable to do with the animal fats leftover from processing meat. Dairy farmers, on the other hand, saw margarine as a threat to their hold on the butter market. They were joined in their opposition by others who were concerned that improperly concocted margarine could be dangerous to human health.

The question of what to do about butter and its imitators began landing in state legislatures across the nation, and in 1881 it was Florida’s turn to debate the matter. The following law passed the Senate and Assembly and was approved by signature of Governor William D. Bloxham on February 17, 1881:

AN ACT to prevent the selling as Butter of Oleomargarine or any Spurious Preparations purporting to be Butter.

The People of the State of Florida, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows: SECTION 1. That any person or persons who shall knowingly and willingly sell or cause to be sold as butter any spurious preparation purporting to be butter, whether known as oleomargarine or by any other name, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined in a sum not to exceed one hundred dollars, or be imprisoned in the county jail for a period of time not to exceed thirty days, or by both fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the Court.

SEC 2. Any keeper of any hotel or boarding house who shall knowingly and wilfully, without giving notice to guests at the table, supply oleomargarine or other spurious preparation purporting to be butter, for the use of guests, shall be subject to the same penalty.

That’s a stiff punishment for passing fake butter!

No margarine here! Young Margie Davis is seen here churning butter the old-fashioned way (date unknown).

No margarine here! Young Margie Davis is seen here churning butter the old-fashioned way (date unknown).

Taken in context, Florida’s treatment of margarine was not so unusual. Congress adopted a law in 1886 regulating the definition of butter and imposing a tax on oleomargarine at two cents per pound. State governments developed a whole range of solutions to the butter battle, including restricting producers from coloring margarine to resemble butter. Without coloring, margarine typically has a whitish tint, resembling lard more than butter. Delaware, Illinois, and Michigan all passed laws establishing this sort of color restriction. New Hampshire opted for the opposite tactic. Its legislature required margarine producers to color their products pink, so consumers would realize they weren’t eating real butter.

Despite all the fuss, consumers gradually warmed up to the idea of using margarine, especially in situations when meat, milk, and butter were in short supply. City dwellers who lacked easy, inexpensive access to farm-fresh butter tended to favor the margarine substitute, and it served as a vital commodity during both world wars. By the 1950s, most of the earlier restrictions on margarine had been dropped.

Margarine has also served at times as creative inspiration. Census and Social Security Death Index records indicate that Florida has been home to many people with some variant of the term “oleomargarine” in their names over the years. The words “Oleo” and “Margarine” were quite common by themselves as names in the early decades of the 20th century, while our research has turned up one case in Duval County of someone with “Oleo Margarine” as their full given name.

These days, butter and margarine get along living side by side in refrigerators all across Florida. Even this recipe card for Florida Orange Meringue Pie offers the cook a choice of which to use (circa 1950s).

These days, butter and margarine get along living side by side in refrigerators all across Florida. Even this recipe card for Florida Orange Meringue Pie offers the cook a choice of which to use (circa 1950s).

If this hasn’t convinced you of food’s vital role in history, check out our new primary source set for teachers titled The History of Foodways in Florida. Its purpose is to empower teachers to use food traditions as a lens for studying history with their students, but anyone is welcome to enjoy the historic documents and media it provides.

A Bill to Protect Skunk Apes

On October 13, 1977, House Bill 58, titled “An act relating to anthropoid or humanoid animals, prohibiting the taking, possessing, harming, or molesting thereof…,” passed through the House Criminal Justice Committee.

Sightings of apelike creatures were booming in the 1970s, particularly in South Florida. In response, Representative Hugh Paul Nuckolls of Fort Myers sponsored a bill to protect the Florida version of these mysterious creatures, the Skunk Ape. Nuckolls introduced the measure after a similar bill (HB 1664) failed to pass during the previous legislative session.

Representative Hugh Paul Nuckolls, Tallahassee, 1980

Representative Hugh Paul Nuckolls, Tallahassee, 1980

Unfortunately, House Bill 58, also known as the Hugh Paul Nuckolls Skunk Ape Act, died without passing and Skunk Apes remain without legislative protection in Florida.

"A Bill to Protect Skunk Apes..." (1977)

The Skunk Ape Act stimulated interesting conversation among the legislators who considered legal measures to protect Skunk Apes in Florida. Click on the thumbnails below to read a partial transcription of deliberations concerning House Bill 58.

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Sabal Palm Designated State Tree (June 11, 1953)

On June 11, 1953, the Florida legislature designated the Sabal Palm (Sabal palmetto) as the state tree of Florida. The Sabal Palm—also known as cabbage palm, cabbage palmetto, palmetto, and countless vernacular terms throughout the southern United States and the Caribbean—has provided food, shelter and inspiration to Floridians for thousands of years.

Cabbage palm (Sable palmetto) in Levy County, Florida

Cabbage palm (Sable palmetto) in Levy County, Florida

From: General Acts and Resolutions Adopted by the Legislature of Florida... (1953), 405-406.

From: General Acts and Resolutions Adopted by the Legislature of Florida... (1953), 405-406.

 

Florida Seminoles and Miccosukees, like indigenous Floridians before them, construct traditional housing using leaves and trunks from the Sabal Palm. These structures, known as “chickees” in the Mikasuki language, are an important symbol of modern Florida Indian culture.

James Billie’s chickee: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (1989)

James Billie’s chickee: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (1989)

 

Swamp cabbage is a popular Florida dish made from the hearts of Sabal Palms. Swamp cabbage can be prepared and served in many ways, but it is usually fried, stewed or boiled for canning.

Agnes Cypress making swamp cabbage: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (1984)

Agnes Cypress making swamp cabbage: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (1984)

 

Landscape artists, from the Hudson River School’s Martin Johnson Heade to Albert Ernest “Bean” Backus and the Florida Highwaymen, have found inspiration in Florida’s state tree.

Florida Highwaymen artist R. L. Lewis: Tallahassee (2006)

Florida Highwaymen artist R. L. Lewis: Tallahassee (2006)

 

Thank you, Sabal Palm, for your service to the state of Florida!

Found a great Sabal Palm photo that we missed? Share it with us in the comments.

Stray Livestock Liability Laws

Cattle drive at Bartow (1890s)

Cattle drive at Bartow (1890s)

On June 7, 1949, the Governor of Florida, Fuller Warren, approved Senate Bill No. 34, which required owners of livestock to prevent their animals from “running at large or straying upon public roads.” Under its provisions, ranchers could be held liable for damage done to property or persons by free roaming livestock.

From: General Acts and Resolutions Adopted by the Legislature of Florida... (1949), 545.

From: General Acts and Resolutions Adopted by the Legislature of Florida... (1949), 545.

The act empowered law enforcement officers to “impound livestock running at large,” and to fine delinquent owners the cost of caring for detained animals. If livestock were not claimed within three days of apprehension, the animals would be sold to the highest bidder. If no buyers came forward, the animals could be slaughtered and disposed of at the discretion of local authorities.

Cattle on their way to Tampa: Kissimmee (1904)

Cattle on their way to Tampa: Kissimmee (1904)

The act encouraged ranchers to build fences and contain wandering livestock. Sometimes known as the fence law, historians consider Senate Bill No. 34 the final measure in closing the open range; in particular it ended the centuries-old practices that gave rise to calling Florida cattle workers “cow hunters.”

J.H. Campbell driving cattle: Hardaway (1939)

J.H. Campbell driving cattle: Hardaway (1939)

When Senate Bill No. 34 became law, many in the Florida cattle industry already supported fence laws. From the 1920s to the early 1940s, ranchers were required to treat cattle for ticks. Outbreaks of tick fever could be devastating, and fences made the required roundups easier and less costly. Although Florida was declared tick free in September 1944, outbreaks occurred again in the late 1940s, 1957 and 1960.

Tick inspection station at the Baker County line (ca. 1930)

Tick inspection station at the Baker County line (ca. 1930)

In the second half of the 20th century, the expansion of citrus cultivation, increased development, and tick scares combined to end the reign of Florida’s cow hunters. Senate Bill No. 34 symbolized the close of the Florida frontier.

Mocking Bird: Bird of Matchless Charm

Florida mockingbird and poinsettia blossoms
State bird of Florida
Young Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos): Cape Canaveral, Florida

The Mocking Bird was designated as the State Bird of the State of Florida on April 23, 1927.

Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 3 read, in part:

“WHEREAS, The Legislature of the State of Florida has thrown the arm of its protecting care around the Mocking Bird by the enactment of suitable legislation and,

WHEREAS, The melody of its music has delighted the heart of residents and visitors to Florida from the days of the rugged pioneer to the present comer, and

WHEREAS, This bird of matchless charm is found throughout our State, therefore

Be It Resolved by the Legislature of the State of Florida:

Section 1. That the Mocking Bird be and it is hereby designated as the State Bird of the State of Florida.”

 

Thanks, Mocking Bird, for 85 years of dedicated service as the state bird of Florida!

Florida Repeals Anti-Dueling Law (1832)

On February 8, 1832, Florida’s Territorial Legislature repealed an anti-dueling law. This measure effectively legalized dueling in the Florida territory. The prevalence of dueling attests to the nature of violence and elite masculinity in the antebellum south.
Placard for duel
RC02619 Placard for a duel: Tallahassee, Florida (1839)

In the above placard, William Tradewell challenged rival politician Leigh Read to a duel. Read had previously made a series of inflammatory remarks about his opponent, causing Tradewell to demand an apology. Though the two never squared-off, both men became known for repeatedly resorting to violence as a means of solving disputes.
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