Place  /  Origin Story

The Factory That Oreos Built

A new owner for the New York City landmark offers a tasty opportunity to recap a crème-filled history.
Irving Underhill/Library of Congress

Traces of the building’s storied past are still visible throughout the modern-day food hall and tourist hub. Faded murals depict “Oreo Sandwich” and the iconic Uneeda Biscuit boy in his emblematic yellow slicker and rain hat holding a tin of biscuits—an ode both to Nabisco’s innovations in packaging (Uneeda was the first prepackaged biscuit, thanks to patented In-Er-Seal technology) and advertising (it signaled the first multi-million dollar ad campaign).

“Although New York has a richer history than any other American city, it does very little to preserve or memorialize its past,” says John Baick, professor of history at Western New England University, where he teaches a course on New York City history. “But New York does not simply bulldoze history, at least not when something can be repurposed, And the new Google building represents another stage in the city’s history, as industrial was replaced by the service industry, which will be replaced by the tech industry.”

The building got its start in 1890 after a number of local bakeries merged to create the New York Biscuit Company and constructed an array of six-story Romanesque-style bakeries. Designed by Romeyn & Stever, they were built along Tenth Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood, named after the estate that stood on that land in colonial times. In 1898 the company amalgamated once again, this time with its Chicago-based competitor, the American Biscuit and Manufacturing Company. They called their new venture National Biscuit Company, which “supporters called Nabisco and opponents labeled the ‘Cracker Trust,’” according to historian Mike Wallace in Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919.

Over the course of the next year, Nabsico—led by the fastidious co-founder and future company president Adolphus W. Green—worked tirelessly to introduce a new product that would set their freshly created company on the path to success. That product? Uneeda Biscuits. Green—a workaholic to the extreme—was something of a prescient businessman and understood the importance of freshness, consistency, branding and advertising long before they were the norm and the marketing of Uneeda Biscuits reflected his approach.

To go along with their new production goals, Nabisco staff architect Albert G. Zimmerman designed additional baking facilities adjacent to the original New York Biscuit Company bakeries, and soon added four fireproof structures—two of which were solely devoted to baking Uneeda Biscuits, while another was for Nabisco Sugar Wafers.

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