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Gelatin, a protein produced from collagen extracted from the boiled bones, connective tissues, and intestines of animals, has been well-known and used for many years.
It was popularized in the Victorian era with spectacular and complex "jelly moulds". Gelatin was sold in sheets and had to be purified, which was very time-consuming. It also made gelatin desserts the province of the relatively well-to-do. In 1845, industrialist Peter Cooper (who built the first American steam-powered locomotive, the Tom Thumb), obtained a patent (US Patent 4084) for powdered gelatin.
Forty years later the patent was sold to a LeRoy, New York-based carpenter and cough syrup manufacturer, Pearle B. Wait. He and his wife May added strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon flavoring to the powder and gave the product its present name in 1897. Unable to successfully market their concoction, in 1899 the Waits sold the business to a neighbor, Orator Francis Woodward, for $450.
Even Woodward struggled to sell the powdered product. Beginning in 1902, to raise awareness, Woodward's Genesee Pure Food Company placed advertisements in the Ladies' Home Journal proclaiming Jell-O to be "America's Most Famous Dessert." Jell-O remained a minor success until 1904, when Genesee Pure Food Company sent enormous numbers of salesmen out into the field to distribute free Jell-O cookbooks, a pioneering marketing tactic at the time. Within a decade, three new flavors, chocolate (discontinued in 1927), cherry and peach, were added, and the brand was launched in Canada. Celebrity testimonials and recipes appeared in advertisements featuring actress Ethel Barrymore and opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink.
In 1923, the newly rechristened Jell-O Company launched D-Zerta, an artificially sweetened version of Jell-O. Two years later, Postum and Genesee merged, and in 1927 Postum acquired Clarence Birdseye's frozen foods company to form the General Foods Corporation. By 1930, there appeared a vogue in American cuisine for congealed salads, and the company introduced lime-flavored Jell-O to complement the various add-ins that cooks across the U.S. were combining in these aspics and salads. By the 1950s, these salads would become so popular that Jell-O responded with savory and vegetable flavors such as celery, Italian, mixed vegetable and seasoned tomato. These savory flavors have since been discontinued.
In 1934, sponsorship from Jell-O made comedian Jack Benny the dessert's spokesperson. At this time also was introduced a jingle (created by the agency Young & Rubicam) that would be familiar over the next several decades, in which the spelling "J-E-L-L-O" was (or could be) sung over a rising five-note musical theme.
In 1936, chocolate returned to the Jell-O lineup, this time as an instant pudding made with milk. It proved enormously popular and over time other pudding flavors were added such as vanilla, tapioca, coconut, pistachio, butterscotch, egg custard, flan and rice pudding.
New flavors continued to be added and unsuccessful ones were removed: in the 1950s and 1960s, apple, black cherry, black raspberry, grape, lemon-lime, mixed fruit, orange-banana, pineapple-grapefruit, blackberry, strawberry-banana, tropical fruit and more intense "wild" versions of the venerable strawberry, raspberry and cherry. In 1966, the Jell-O "No-Bake" dessert line was launched, which allowed a cheesecake to be made in 15 minutes. In 1971 pre-packaged prepared pudding called Jell-O Pudding Treats were introduced. During this same period, 1-2-3 Jell-O, a gelatin dessert that separated into three layers as it cooled was unveiled. Until 1987, 1-2-3 Jell-O could readily be found in grocery stores throughout most of the United States, but the dessert is now extremely rare. Jell-O Whip 'n Chill, a mousse-style dessert, was also introduced and widely promoted; it also remains available only in limited areas today.
In 1964, the slogan "There's always room for Jell-O" was introduced, promoting the product as a "light dessert" that could easily be consumed even after a heavy meal.
In 1974, comedian Bill Cosby became the company's pudding spokesperson, and continued to serve as the voice of Jell-O for almost thirty years. Over the course of his tenure as the mouthpiece for the company, he would help introduce new products such as frozen Jell-O Pops (in both gelatin and pudding varieties); the new Sugar-Free Jell-O, which replaced D-Zerta in 1984 and was sweetened with NutraSweet; Jell-O Jigglers concentrated gummi snacks; and Sparkling Jell-O, a carbonated version of the dessert touted as the "Champagne of Jell-O." In 2010, Cosby returned as Jell-O spokesperson in an on-line web series called "OBKB." 
In 1989, General Foods was merged into Kraft Foods by parent company Philip Morris (now the Altria Group). New flavors were continually introduced: watermelon, blueberry, cranberry, margarita and piņa colada among others. In 2001, Green Jell-O was declared the "Official State Snack" of Utah, with Governor Michael O. Leavitt declaring an annual "Jell-O Week." During the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the souvenir pins included one depicting green Jell-O.
As of 2008[update], there are more than 158 products sold under the Jell-O brand name and about 300 million boxes of Jell-O gelatin sold in the United States each year.
Jell-O is also used as a substantial ingredient in a well-known dessert, a "Jell-O mold" the preparation of which requires a mold designed to hold gelatin, and the depositing of small quantities of chopped fruit, nuts, and other ingredients before it hardens and takes on its typical form. Fresh pineapple, papaya, kiwi, and ginger root cannot be used because they contain enzymes that prevent the gelatin from "setting."