This is the story of Thomas Edmonds, the man behind Edmonds Sure to Rise baking powder and our iconic Kiwi classic Edmonds cookbook.
We are a nation of immigrants, and Thomas and Jane Edmonds were surely the best kind of immigrants New Zealand could have.
They came from an overcrowded East London as newlyweds in 1879 with very little. But through determination, hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit, Thomas built a highly successful business. In his Christchurch factory, he created jobs for many locals for whom he provided progressive working conditions.
He generously contributed to many good causes. The beautiful garden he created adjacent to his Edmonds factory was for both his workers and the public to enjoy freely. It was his way of contributing to the vision he shared of Christchurch as a garden city.
When Thomas Edmonds, who owned a small grocery store in Christchurch in the 1870s, discovered that there was a gap in the market for a reliable baking powder, he created one after much experimentation. The success of his baking powder was in no small measure due to superb marketing strategies.
Giving out free samples and free copies of the Edmonds cookbook (first published in 1908) were great incentives to use his baking powder.
His distinctive sunburst trademark and the slogan Sure to Rise has stood the test of time and can still be seen on the cover of the Edmonds cookbook and on Edmonds packets and tins.
Newspaper advertisements were the main form of advertising in those days. A team of talented creatives drew and coloured the many newspaper advertisements by hand, an intricate and laborious process, in readiness for printing on a printing press.
They were aimed at stay-at-home housewives. The housewife who did not use Sure to Rise Edmonds Baking Powder failed baking and risked family disappointment.
Cringe-worthy from a feminist viewpoint!
The artists from the advertising agency he used had leeway to create some highly inventive advertisements, such as this one:
Sure to Rise. An enormous cake 4000 miles high! If all the Edmonds Powder used in one year were put into one cake, then that cake would be 4,000 miles high.
If 1710 mountains the height of Mt Cook were placed one on top of the other one, they would only just reach the top of that stupendous cake.
Children were also targeted. One advertisement showed how the wicked wolf followed Little Red Riding Hood because her basket contained ‘lovely cakes and other dainties’ made with Edmonds.
But it was not all plain sailing. For instance, during World War One, manufacturers faced challenges as restricted shipping caused disruptions to supply. For Edmonds, this meant difficulties in importing a vital ingredient required for his baking powder, cream of tartar, which inevitably led to a very significant price rise and disgruntled customers.
Thomas died in 1932, but his legacy lives on. Although both his iconic Art Deco factory and garden were bowled in the 1980s when Goodman Fielder took over the Edmond’s business, part of the garden was rescued and re-established by a volunteer group, the ‘Friends of Edmonds Factory Garden' and can once again be enjoyed by all.
Sure to Rise: The Edmonds Story is richly illustrated with over 500 images: family photographs and the labels used on packets and tins, as well as newspaper advertisements used by the company through the decades.
Anyone who is interested in vintage design will greatly enjoy this rich repository.
And the iconic Edmonds cookbook is still a bestseller. It has been revised several times to reflect modern tastes, but the rising sun still shines brightly on its cover.
For over thirty years, my partner has baked the Edmonds shortbread for a festive treat, and Edmonds pancakes are always served for our Christmas morning breakfast. Christmas would not be the same without Edmonds!
Sure to Rise: The Edmonds Story is a fascinating slice of New Zealand’s culinary and social history. I found it a very engaging and uplifting read.
Reviewer: Lyn Potter
Canterbury University Press