Oleo Wars

Date in History: 1895 to 1967

Most of us think of margarine as yellow, but actually that’s a fairly recent development. In 1895 the Wisconsin Legislative passed a law declaring that oleo, or margarine, purchased in Wisconsin was not allowed to have yellow coloring added since they did not want it to appear like butter. State dairy farmers had successfully argued that butter needed to be “protected from the competition,” since the dairy industry was a major income producer for the state. Indeed our own William Dempster Hoard was a strong advocate for restrictions on oleo.

The proponents of the oleo laws blocked any bill endangering these restrictions, until finally in 1967 the state legislature voted to lift the color ban. But the change was accepted only with great debate and many suggested amendments. One senator stood before his colleagues and memorably declared, “Butter gave me the strength to stand up here and fight for the farmer.”

This historic document aired on the radio as an Historic Minute on 10/03/2005.

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