On 26 September 1955 Clarence Birdseye’s most famous invention, the fish finger went on sale in the UK.
Clarence Frank Birdseye II was born in Brooklyn in 1886. He was an inventor, entrepreneur, naturalist and considered to be the founder of the modern frozen food industry.
He learnt how to ice fish from the Inuit whilst working in Labrador between 1912 and 1915 and in 1922 conducted a number of fish-freezing experiments. This led to the establishment of the Birdseye Seafood Inc company. His development of a quick freezing process led to the creation of a new company the General Seafood Corporation. His invention of the double belt freezer marked the beginning of the frozen food industry in 1925.
Post-war rationing led the way for new foods like the fish finger. During the 1950s new types of food were developed as a direct response to the need for nutritious food that made use of available ingredients. Before the fish finger, the staple fish product was herring, which was difficult to eat and lots of children didn’t like it. Birdseye carried out product marketing on herring fish fingers against a cod version in the UK. There was an overwhelming preference for the cod.
In 1955 fish finger production began at the Birdseye food factory in Great Yarmouth. Within a decade of its launch the fish finger accounted for 10% of British food consumption. Their popularity was due to the increasing number of housewives that were going out to work and as a result had less time to prepare meals. The fish finger is a convenience food requiring no pre- cooking prep. Few people had freezers in 1955, so the product had to be cooked straight away.
Changing lifestyles and advertising helped to boost the sales of the fish finger. The first advertising campaign read: ‘No bones, no waste, no smell, no fuss.’
Since their introduction over 15 billion fish fingers have been sold in the UK.
Back to Clarence, he held around 300 patents, including grocery store freezers and refrigerated lorries.
He died in 1956 of a heart attack.
My piece incorporates the fish finger advertising slogan, mentioned above, alongside a portrait of Clarence Birdseye. I predominantly work in photography and wanted to make work using photography in some way. After looking at photographs of Clarence Birdseye, I came up with the idea of designing and having a rubber stamp of him made using a photograph as my source material. The rubber stamp idea was generated from the multiple patents he had and the fact that they would have received a rubber stamp when approved.