Libraries Launches Exhibit Commemorating the Historical Entrepreneurship of Gebhardt Mexican Foods

Jun 16, 2014

Gebhardt fullBy Ryan Schoensee, Communications Specialist

The dynamic online exhibit examines the impact made by Gebhardt Mexican Foods Company, a convenience food business based in San Antonio

UTSA Libraries has launched a dynamic virtual exhibit to honor Gebhardt Mexican Foods Company, a San Antonio business that revolutionized chili powder and Mexican convenience foods across the country for almost a century. The online exhibit can be found at lib.utsa.edu/gebhardt.

The zesty virtual exhibit represents a historical journey that follows the popularization of chili powder and Mexican cookery, taking the viewer through the twists and turns that resulted from one man’s vision to offer America something it had never tasted before. The exhibit highlights this progression in a digitally designed format that provides multimedia through text, photographs, and original advertisements that serve as the backdrop to this uniquely engaging experience.

The San Antonio based firm started in 1896 with Willie Gebhardt’s passion for cooking and his infatuation with Mexican food. Shortly after opening a restaurant in New Braunfels, Gebhardt relocated his business to the Alamo City and began pursuing his dream of offering novel tastes beyond the Lone Star State.

Gebhardt achieved his dream by importing ancho peppers from Mexico to produce a fine and tasteful chili powder that added “That Real Mexican Tang” to any dish. His company published Mexican cookbooks and went on to promote other products such as canned chili, canned beans, deviled sandwich spread and Mexican dinners-in-a-box. Through impressive marketing in radio commercials, newspaper and magazine advertisements, the company was able to achieve critical acclaim, and the Gebhardt name became synonymous with Mexican cookery to Americans across the nation.

In 1989, the UTSA Libraries Special Collections acquired the Gebhardt Mexican Foods Company records to preserve and share this extraordinary chapter from San Antonio’s culinary history. The exhibit was created with the goal of making it more accessible to the general public by establishing a new experience that could be appreciated by a broad audience.

While Gebhardt’s famous chili powder can still be found on the shelves of some grocery stores in Texas and reportedly in Southern California, the company itself no longer exists. The UTSA Libraries collection may some day be the public’s only connection to the once beloved family-owned company.

 “Anyone interested in the history of the popularization of Mexican food in the United States will enjoy experiencing this unique collection from the comfort of their own computer,” said Anne Peters, communications director for the UTSA Libraries.

The UTSA Libraries Special Collections preserves the legacies of San Antonio and South Texas through a rich array of primary resources. Strengths of the collections—which are open to academic and casual researchers alike—include San Antonio history, urban development and architecture, regional authors, Mexican cookery, women and women’s history, and the Texas-Mexico border region.