Giant whipped cream cans in Dearborn: The history and where they are now

Do you remember the giant cans of whipped cream on Telegraph Road? Here’s their story

Presto Whip building, Dearborn MI, 1976 (John Margolies, The Henry Ford)

DEARBORN, Mich. – They say everything is bigger in Texas, but Michigan has quite the history with oversized things. From the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile to the giant Uniroyal tire on eastbound I-94, we have many landmarks throughout the state that can fit into the ‘oversized things’ category.

Although some still exist, many have been removed. You may remember the giant Big Buck beer bottle was removed from the Big Buck Brewery in Auburn Hills in 2016, which was a staple to many I-75 drivers, but do you remember the Presto Whip cans on Telegraph?

We received a question from a reader as part of our 4YI form, where you can submit questions or quandaries about Detroit or Michigan and we try our best to answer them.

The reader wrote: “what happened to the big cans whipped cream cans on Telegraph Road just south of Michigan Avenue?” and I found myself wondering the same thing.

The history of Presto Whip

Rich’s Whip Topping - “Miracle Cream from the Soybean”

Soy Info Center provides an explanation of how Presto Whip came to be. You may not know, but World War II was a hard time for the dairy industry. Any sales of whipped cream were prohibited and all dairy products had to be rationed. Bob Rich, a consultant for the federal government who monitored milk production in the Great Lakes region, founded Rich Products Corporation in 1944 to give the world what it was missing, whipped cream.

He got the idea for his business when a purchasing agent from Detroit’s Ford Hospital came to his office in search of butter, Soy Info Center explains. Rich explained to the agent that he did not deal with butter, only with condensed and dry milk products for the armed forces. The agent was disappointed and told Rich that the hospital was not in need of milk, because all of their milk and cream products were produced in Dearborn by Henry Ford’s Carvery Laboratory from soybeans.

Lightbulb! He had never heard of soymilk, so the purchasing agent invited him to the lab. While visiting, he met Rex Diamond, the chief chemist, and a Bob Smith. Diamond, who was all about promoting soymilk, told Rich that he could license the rights to Ford’s patented continuous proteins extraction process for only $1 a year to make soy cream. He began to dream about developing a soy based cream that would whip.

According to Soy Info Center, he took his idea back home to Buffalo, New York and with the help of a top dairy engineer, he was able to develop a batch protein extraction process which eventually was able to extract a significantly higher percentage of isolated soy protein from soy flakes. With this satisfactory extraction system and a good ‘soy cream’ formula, Bob Rich founded and incorporated Rich Products corporation in Buffalo. Rich’s Whip Topping hit the shelves in April of 1945 and was one of the world’s earliest and most poplar commercial food products to use isolated soy proteins as a significant ingredient.

The Competition: Delsoy

Remember Bob Smith? Well, he’s important now. Rich was unaware, but Bob Smith and Herbert Marshall Taylor had been working on a similar idea. They introduced their non-dairy whipped topping just before Rich’s Whip Topping went on the market. Delsoy, a soymilk based non-dairy topping was manufactured in Dearborn and was sold mostly to restaurants in Detroit. Eventually it was introduced to retail stores in New York in the spring of ‘45. Delsoy was America’s earliest known commercial non-dairy whip topping. The product did not succeed as well as Smith and Taylor would have hoped and that is because it was not a frozen product, therefore it had a very short shelf life.

Eventually, Delsoy would modify Chicago’s Super Whip Co.’s nitrous and valve design to create Presto Whip, according to Detroit History Revealed. Soy Info Center says “By 1947 it was Delsoy Super Whip: Instant Dessert Topping (All-Vegetable Soymilk-Based Non-Dairy Whip Topping Sold in a Pressurized Can), and Presto Whip (All-Vegetable Soymilk-Based Non-Dairy Whip Topping in a Pressurized Can with Valve – Refrigerated), in 1960 the same product was also sold frozen.”

The giant whipped cream cans!

Detroit History Revealed reports that Delsoy was purchased by Harvey Whitehouse of Whitehouse Products Inc. in 1963. It is also stated that sometime in the late ‘60s, Whitehouse decided to build two large 30 ft. Presto Whip Cans on the eastside of Telegraph Rd to help advertise the local product. Although they appear to be a simple advertisement, they were actually silos that would house soybean oil and sugar.

Presto Whip Building, Dearborn MI, 1976 (The Henry Ford)

What happened to the Presto Whip cans?

The cans came down during the 80s. It is thought that they were torn down around the time Whitehouse Products and the Presto Whip trademark were sold to C.J. Christoff and sons of Lowell Michigan, most likely 1983.

What used to be Delsoy Products that sat at 2033 South Telegraph at Harvard Street in Dearborn, is now a car dealership. LaFontaine Toyota stands on the graveyard of the beloved giant Presto Whip cans.


About the Author:

Morgan is a senior at Wayne State University studying political science and communications.