Why does Heinz ketchup say “57 varieties”? I only see one variety

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Dear Cecil: I have always wondered why Heinz ketchup bottles all say “57 varieties,” even though I have never seen but one type, whether it be on grocery shelves or in restaurants. What gives? Where are the other 56 kinds? R.B., Dallas

Cecil replies:

Fifty-seven varieties doesn’t mean 57 varieties of ketchup, you dope, it means 57 varieties of food products in general. There are only three varieties of Heinz ketchup — regular, hot, and low-sodium — but there are far more than 57 varieties of Heinz pickles, Heinz sauces, Heinz soups, and Heinz God-knows-what-else. In fact, if you count everything Heinz and all its divisions and subsidiaries make, there are something like 1,300 varieties, including 108 varieties of baby food, 60 kinds of pickles, and so on.

The number 57 has mystical significance to the Heinz company, but it has never had much to do with reality. The slogan was invented by the company’s founder, Henry J. Heinz, during a ride on the New York elevated in 1892. While he was reading the car cards on the ceiling, Heinz’s eye alighted on the slogan “21 styles of shoes.” To pedestrian minds such as our own, R.B., this probably doesn’t sound like one of your killer advertising mottoes, but that’s why we’re not millionaire ketchup barons. Heinz could recognize genius when he saw it. Cogitating briefly, he conceived the immortal words “57 varieties,” and immediately hopped off the the train and set about plastering the nation with the now-famous pickle-plus-number logo. The one problem with this scheme was that at the time the company was manufacturing more than 60 varieties. However, Heinz stuck with 57, for what his biographer describes as “occult reasons.”

Heinz, as may already be evident, was something of a character. He started off bottling horseradish in a little town near Pittsburgh in 1869 (ketchup didn’t arrive on the scene until 1876). He made a major selling point of the fact that he put his product in clear glass bottles, thus demonstrating that he didn’t adulterate his sauce with turnips or other false vegetables, as his competitors did.

Once Heinz hit on the notion of “57 varieties,” he constructed hideous advertising signs at strategic locales around the country. One, which was six stories high, was located at 23rd and 5th Avenue in New York City and dazzled tourists with a 40-foot-long electrified pickle. Heinz also built an exhibition hall in Atlantic City on a pier that extended 900 feet out into the ocean; another monstrous pickle, this one 70 feet tall, perched heroically on the end.

After a few more demonstrations of this style of architecture, the citizenry became alarmed lest Heinz encumber every landmark in the republic with giant pickles. When a rumor (unfounded, it appears) got out that he had purchased Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee, in order to scrape off the side and sculpt a pickle of unprecedented proportions in the native granite, or whatever it is they have there, there was a general uproar, with one partisan threatening to pickle Heinz 57 ways if he tried it.

The Heinz people are still quite attached to the number 57. The phone number at corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh is 237-5757, and the address is P.O. Box 57. One of their salesman was a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers at one time, and you’ll never guess what his number was. It’s enough to make you want to swear off ketchup forever.

Oh, no, it’s the Illuminati!

Dear Cecil:

Thank you for the leg work. In case you’re not aware, you’ve uncovered another Illuminati agent in Henry J. Heinz. Let me expand briefly. The Illuminati are an extremely secret sect, and have been among mankind practically from the beginning, originating, it is believed, in the Lost Continent, Atlantis. Being a secret, powerful, occult sect, the Illuminati gathered great mystical power from their use of the number 5. Five is an extremely strong number, still used in the worship of Satan, the power of our military, the logic of our digits, the points of our extremities, our senses, and a great many other things rooted in our collective psyche. Also important, and perhaps more powerful, is the combination of the numbers 2 and 3, equalling 5, of course. Two is the symbol for symmetry, and three, the divinity and others. It is a blatant game that the Illuminati are extremely fond of, flaunting their symbols to each other — the more bizarre the better, the more flagrant the waste of money, the better yet. Keeping this in mind, think again of the giant pickles, the man whose “mysterious” number is 57. (Remember, 7 is simply the repeating 2 + 3 cycle, i.e., 2 + 3 = 5 + 2 = 7 + 3 = 10 or 5 x 2.) Now observe the phone number — 237-5757. Ergo, buying Heinz products finances the Illuminati.

— Daniel K., Baltimore

P.S.: Notice how many letters in his first and last names.

Cecil replies:

Very interesting, Dan, and just the kind of thing we expect from a Baltimorean. I should point out, by way of amplification, that by using the digits 2 and 3 in appropriate combinations you can generate every integer (including 1, if you allow subtraction). In other words, the very foundations of mathematics are infected with Illuminism. Those guys are everywhere.

Cecil Adams

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.