War hero, founding father, Commander in Chief; George Washington was a busy guy. But did you know that he also invented instant coffee? Well, he didn’t, actually.
But another guy named George Washington did… sort of. Instant coffee’s first mass producer was a man named George Constant Louis Washington, who was an inventor from Belgium. When he first arrived stateside in 1897, he spent a decade or so figuring out what to do with his life.
At first, he started a company that made parts for kerosene lamps, but incandescent bulbs rendered his newly established firm basically obsolete. After that, he went into the camera business.
When that didn’t go as planned, he moved to Guatemala to make his fortune as a cattle rancher, but that didn’t really work out either. Within a year, he was back in the New York groove, but he had finally hit upon the idea that would make him a wealthy man: instant coffee.
Rags to Riches
Now, others had made instant coffee before Washington; a New Zealander named David Strang had his own brand, and Japanese chemist Satori Kato had formulated his own version of the stuff, too. But Washington invented a new process that allowed instant coffee to be produced on a massive scale. G. Washington’s instant coffee was a huge hit.
It was convenient! It was modern! It was pure! The WW I soldiers loved it! Soon, the company could afford to sponsor the popular Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio show, and Dr. Watson invited listeners to join him by the fire for a story and a hot cup of G. Washington coffee.
The only problem was that G. Washington coffee just wasn’t that tasty, and plenty of eager competitors soon cropped up with their own offerings. By World War II, soldiers could choose between a “cup of George” and Nescafe, among several others.
Here’s to the “Other” George Washington
Coffee snobs might turn their noses at the thought of drinking instant coffee, but when you’re on the go and need a quick pick-me-up, it’s certainly better than nothing. And while modern instant coffee may have improved greatly since George Constant Louis Washington’s days, there’s no denying his role as a founding father of the instant coffee world.
Let’s raise our cups and toast to the other George Washington! While we’re at it, let’s thank our lucky stars that we don’t have to drink his original recipe every morning!