Gorton Codfish Cake Cans and History

These various designs of codfish cake can labels were used in an early psychological test of product preference which is described by then-chairman Dr. Richard P. Youtz as follows:



Professor Harry L. Hollingworth ( 1882 - 1956) taught at Barnard from 1912 to 1946. He was chairman of the Psychology Department from about 1923 (when Psychology became a department separate from Philosophy) until 1946. When he retired he told me he had moved out everything he wanted and said that I should throw out anything not useful to the department. The Gorton codfish cans with the variety of hand-painted labels led me to ask him about them. He reported as follows (as I remember it):

After Hollingworth's approximately 15 months of service in World War 1, the success of the Army Alpha and Army Beta intelligence tests led him and several other psychologists into further exploration of the ways that psychological techniques could be applied in civilian life. (Albert T. Poffenberger and John B. Watson were two others.). Some companies started the then-new idea that perhaps the ways in which their goods were packaged might influence buyers, or at least call the buyers' attention to their products.

After Holly had made a number of talks to business luncheon groups, he was approached by several companies, among them the Gorton Codfish Company. He was asked if his psychological techniques could help them decide which of a number of different can-labels would be best.

Hollingworth told me that the method he used was a basic psychological one, probably paired-comparisons, In which subjects expressed their choices in terms of various criteria such as - better looking? better codfish? prefer to buy? etc. You'll note that each can has a large capital letter on top for identification. (He didn't recall which can label was chosen as best so I can't tell you.)

Holly reported that college professors didn't do much consulting in the early 1920's. He said that there were whispers at the APA meetings that he and some other professors had 'taken money' for doing studies for companies. However, applied and industrial psycholgy soon became "respectable" and it became acceptable for psychologists to earn money through consulting.

(June 15, 1976. Richard P. Youtz, Chairman 1946 - 1974.)