Published: July 26, 2022

Dr. William A. Mitchell

Born in 1911, William A. Mitchell grew up a simple Minnesota farm boy, but he had grander ambitions, and so worked the late shift at the American Beet Sugar Company (if his life were a movie, this would be absurd foreshadowing) while pursuing his studies.

After college, he worked at Agricultural Experiment Station, where an explosion left him with burns over most of his body--cue superhero origin music. Undaunted, Mitchell still found a way to contribute to the war effort against the Nazis, developing a tapioca substitute, which became known among the grunts as “Mitchell mud.”

During America’s post-WWII boom, Mitchell went on unquestionably the greatest hot streak in food science history:

1956 – While endeavoring to invent instant soda – “Just add water!” – Mitchell invents Pop Rocks, those tiny little candies that pop and fizz on your tongue, which hit the market in 1975 but did not, under any circumstances, contribute (directly) to the death of Mikey or any other kids.

1957 – Mitchell invents Tang, a powdered drink used to cover up the metallic taste of the water sent up into space as part of the Apollo program. Never mind that Buzz Aldrin said it “sucks,” Tang was orange juice for astronauts, and that’s awesome.

1967 – Mitchell unlocks the science of quick-set powdered gelatin activated by cold water, thus paving the way for Jell-O. While likely pondering what could one could put atop Jell-O to make it a next-level confectionary delight, Mitchell invents Cool Whip, which still sells 200 million tubs a year—more than one per American household.

Despite a career spent developing sugar-heavy Frankenfoods, Mitchell lived until he ripe old age of 92, passing away on July 26, 2004, at the home of his daughter Cheryl, who also became a food scientist, though in one of history’s uglier childhood rebellions chose to work on things like vegan “milk.”

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