On this day in 1955, a man named Aaron “Bunny” Lapin patented something that became a mainstay of American holidays: the nozzle on aerosol whip cream containers. But by the time he received his patent, the invention had already helped make him a millionaire.
Aerosol whipped cream was a typical postwar convenience food product, “simple and inexpensive enough to permit their being discarded after a single use,” as the patent reads. Lapin’s innovation was to create a canister lid that would allow the canister’s contents to be pressurized to up to 100 pounds per square inch.
This innovation paved the way for Reddi-wip, the product Bunny Lapin’s name came to be associated with in the postwar period (‘Lapin’ is French for ‘rabbit,’ hence the nickname). But it was also a culmination point in his early experiences in food sales, writes Nick Ravo for The New York Times. Lapin was originally a clothing salesman, Ravo writes:
But he switched to the food business in the early 1940’s, selling Sta-Whip, a wartime substitute for whipping cream made mostly from light cream and vegetable fat. For bakers and other commercial customers who wanted to whip Sta-Whip, he also offered what he called a Fount-Wip, a crude, refillable aerating gun.
In 1946, when the Crown Cork and Seal Company introduced the first seamless, lined and lithographed aerosol canister–the Spra-tainer, Mr. Lapin became one of the canister’s first customers.
He put his product in the aerosol cans under the name Reddi-wip, initiallly selling it through milkmen in St. Louis. Distribution quickly expanded throughout the United States and Canada.
Five years later, he was famous, “The Whipped Cream King,” Ravo writes. He also founded another company that made and sold its own valves, even producing Reddi-Shave, one of the first aerosol shaving creams.
Lapin sold his part of the company in 1963 and moved on, he writes. The empire he founded grew, though, and by the end of the twentieth century one in every two cans of aerosol whip cream sold bore the iconic Reddi-wip name.
Reddi-wip, sold with slogans like “It’s the same pure cream–but Reddi-wip whips it for you!” was a typical product of the attitude towards consumer convenience that arose after World War II. But, writes historian Heather Rogers, disposable convenience came at a hidden cost. Although disposable convenience products such as Reddi-wip offered convenience to consumers, they also saddled them with the burn of unprecedented amounts of waste disposal, she writes. And “convenient” products that came in bright, disposable packaging generally cost more.
“The annual cost for packaging in the 1950s was $25 billion,” she writes. “That meant that each U.S. family was paying $500 a year for packaging alone–a price that did not include municipal disposal or long-term environmental costs.”
Today, Reddi-wip remains a holiday tradition. A shortage before the 2016 Christmas season, caused by an explosion at a nitrous oxide factory, made national headlines.