Posted October 16, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Happy Birthday Edmund McIlhenny!

Business owners host birthday party for Tabasco’s creator, born in Hagerstown

It was one of the few cases when it was OK to set things on fire at Hagerstown Public Square.

Well, in your mouth, anyway.

Several “small fires” were contained in tiny bottles of Tabasco sauce, mango salsa and coffee at the Square Cup Cafe on Friday, where Hagerstown Mayor Richard F. Trump offered a proclamation honoring the birthday of Edmund McIlhenny, the Hagerstown native who invented Tabasco sauce.

“That’s hot stuff, so to speak,” the mayor said during his speech, just after the group sang “Happy Birthday.”

McIlhenny was born Oct. 15, 1815 above his father’s tavern, where DatAchieve Digital and The Square Cup coffee shop now stands. He moved to Louisiana in the 1840s and invented the sauce in Avery Island, La., in 1868. Today, his company makes up 27 percent of the hot sauce market, food analysts say.

David Layton, owner of DatAchieve, said he decided to host the get-together after he learned that McIlhenny was born there. DatAchieve co-hosted the event with the Square Cup Cafe.

“Why celebrate the birthday of a guy who moved away and made his success somewhere else?” Layton said. “Well, we’re not celebrating that. We’re celebrating the success and opportunity he and his family found here in Hagerstown.”

In addition to owning several businesses, McIlhenny’s father, John, served as the city’s mayor and was the president of Hagerstown Trust. Historians believe McIlhenny moved to New Orleans after his father died, Layton said.

It is said that while in New Orleans, McIlhenny met a Confederate veteran who gave him a few pepper pods from Mexico. He planted the pods at Avery Island and decided to make a pepper sauce during the post-Civil War era.

While McIlhenny is credited as being the first to mass-market the hot stuff, people had been concocting their own versions for centuries.

Food scholars believe American Indians used hot sauce to preserve meats in the late 1400s. There’s also evidence that cooks during the Middle Ages may have used hot sauces made with cloves, long pepper, vinegar and burnt bread.

Around 25 business owners came to salute McIlhenny’s success. Layton said he planned to host the “birthday party” next year. The mayor said the city was looking forward to next year’s party.

“May we always be here,” Trump said. “And may we get sauced.”

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog