Tone Bros

In April of 1873, two men from New York, along with their families, stepped off the Keokuk & Des Moines rail line (Rock Island Line) to start a business based on innovation that would change the spice industry. Jehiel had been working for a spice company in Michigan when he convinced his brother Isaac to open a business with him in Des Moines. The west was new and ripe with opportunity, Des Moines was growing, and several rail lines passed through making it a desirable location for business.

They started as a grocery with four employees on Water Street: Jehiel, Isaac, Aunt Mary, and “Mother.” After 10 years, Tone’s moved to a larger building at 213 Court Avenue.  Ten years following, they moved to a new four-story building and focused on spices, roasted coffee, and manufactured baking powder.

Tone Bros. brought many innovative ideas the spice market. It was the first spice company to individually package spices for sale. In the late 1800s, spices were scooped out of barrels into sacks, but prepackaged spices decreased purchasing times and flat pricing brought convenience to customers. In addition, they were also the first to roast coffee beans west of the Mississippi River. Jay Tone, Jr, in an interview with Des Moines Public Library discusses how at this time, coffee beans were purchased green, and then roasted at home. The convenience of pre-roasted beans reduced time in the kitchen and brought a more consistently flavored final product to the consumer.

The company was also the first spice company to grind whole black pepper. Jay Tone, Jr. mentions how black walnuts used to be ground up in the pepper to give it a dark color, but Tone’s decided to sell pure ground pepper, increasing its quality and the company’s reputability.

The company eventually expanded its business to include the manufacturing of baking powder and extracts. In the late 1890's it branched out to other states and employed several salesmen.

Jay Tone, Sr, worked in his office at Tone's until the age of 96. Shortly after his retirement, the company was sold to Mid-Continent Bottlers. Tone, Sr. was born the year Tone's was founded and died at the age of 100, witnessing it's entire first century of operation.



Interview with Jay Tone, Jr.
An interview with Jay Tone, Jr, the grandson of Tone Bros. co-founder I.E. Tone. ~ Source: "Tone Brothers Spice Company: Interview with Jay Tone, Jr." Iowa Oral History Collection. Des Moines Public Library, 1982.
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