This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXVIII, Number 2 - Spring 2012
Although Americans consume an average of thirty pounds of cheese each year - up from eight pounds in 1950, a staggering increase of 287 percent - few probably recognize the name Arnold N. Nawrocki. However, at his death at the age of seventy-eight, his obituary was published in more than one hundred newspapers in six countries on three continents. His obituary appeared in a number of leading dailies in the United States, including the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Orlando Sentinel, Charleston Gazette, Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune. Newsday contended he was "widely credited with bringing individually wrapped slices of cheese into the homes of millions of families in the 1950s."
Arnold N. Nawrocki (1925–2003) was born and raised in Michigan City, Indiana, and earned his engineering degree from Purdue University. In 1950, at the age of twenty-five while working as a quality assurance manager for Swift and Company in Chicago, he invented a process for shrink-wrapping large blocks of cheese, for which he received his first U.S. patent. He next developed a method of encasing thin, hot cheese between two sheets of wax-coated cellophane, which he cut and formed into stacks of individually wrapped slices. "They were beautiful and expensive," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. "The slices were next to impossible to open and were covered with wax. The project was killed."
Nawrocki left Swift and Company and began working as technical director for the Clearfield Cheese Company in Curwensville, Clearfield County, owned by William D. Tate. Not only did he develop a more sophisticated process for individually wrapping cheese slices but Nawrocki and coworkers designed the equipment that made it possible. The original equipment was built in Philadelphia but after it was shipped to Curwensville, Nawrocki and fellow employees discovered it did not work. They turned to local machinists and farmers who manufactured machinery that successfully wrapped the first cheese slice.
The Clearfield Cheese Company began selling the individually wrapped cheese slices in 1956, but salesmen encountered difficulty in marketing the product. Wary buyers hesitated because they feared they would be paying more for the new packaging. In an effort to market its product, the company printed "Individually Wrapped" in large bold letters, but sales still lagged. The company changed the wording to "Each Slice Wrapped" and success was immediate.
By 1970, the Clearfield Cheese Company had become the second largest cheese processor in the world, second only to Kraft Foods, but an ill-conceived merger with Hood Dairy and subsequent mismanagement of the cheese company led to dwindling profits. Schreiber Foods purchased the company in 1985 and the last plant that produced the Clearfield brand's individually wrapped cheese slices closed in Curwensville three years later.
Although Kraft Foods eventually became synonymous with individually wrapped cheese slices, it was Arnold N. Nawrocki and the Clearfield Cheese Company that revolutionized its packaging and marketing. To recognize his invention, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) installed a state historical marker honoring Nawrocki in Curwensville in 2007.
Since 1914, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) has installed more than 2,300 state historical markers throughout the Commonwealth. Information about PHMC's marker program is available online at Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program and Explore PA History.
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