Why A Horse Was Important To Progresso's Initial Success

Giuseppe Uddo, a founder of Pro­gresso Foods, embodies a true American success story. An immigrant who grew up poor in a small Sicilian village called Salemi, he eventually made it big selling the products of his homeland in the U.S. The company is still thriving today, with its classic minestrone soup meriting top five honors in our popular canned soups rankings.

Uddo's story begins in the 1890s. He dropped out of school at age 9 to help support his family, riding around in a horse-drawn cart "selling olives and cheeses from a horse-drawn cart in Sicilian villages," per General Mills. It was in fact a horse that would play a major role in his formative years as an entrepreneur.

As recounted in "The World on A Plate," a young Uddo met Eleanora Taormina, the daughter of a food merchant. The two married and headed to New Orleans, where he took gigs with her relatives. Those early years in New Orleans were anything but a honeymoon: Uddo and Toarmina lived in cramped conditions in the French Quarter, where "they shared a toilet with the other dwellers."

A horse named Sal

According to "The World on a Plate," Giuseppe Uddo's life changed in a big way "when his employers went bankrupt" in 1909. One fateful evening, he ran into a macaroni factory owner named Jacob Cusimano. One thing led to another, and by the end of the conversation, Mr. Cusimano had "offered him goods to start his own business and promised him credit to buy more."

After experiencing this stroke of good fortune, Uddo decided to start his very own business, focusing on selling the imported Italian food staples of olives and tomato paste he knew so well (per Mental Floss). He also recognized that his fellow Italians living abroad would covet ingredients from home. The pieces seemed to be falling into place, but there was just one problem — how would Uddo get these items around town efficiently?

Another bit of good fortune fell in his lap when, as recounted in "The World on a Plate," he ended up buying a horse called Sal off of wife Eleanora Taormina's cousins. With the equine's help, Uddo launched an endeavor that would eventually become Progresso. As the company — which would merge with Vincent Taormina's company — expanded, Uddo was able to upgrade to trucks, but there's no denying Sal was critical to Progresso's initial success. 

Uddo's son is unequivocal in describing what Sal meant to the origins of Progresso. "The horse started the business," he once said, per "The World on a Plate."