As a child of the eighties, the words ‘silver spoons’ bring to mind pretty much either the iconic sitcom or the ever-present insult hurled at anyone fortunate enough to be born into any level of affluence more than your own. (Historically, I think it was used to describe someone born into great affluence, but eventually it was watered down into a sort of vague “classist” insult.)

Now that I think about it, it does seem a bit odd that the title Silver Spoons was chosen for the show, considering its overwhelmingly pejorative connotation. I’m going to assume they did some focus groups or something.

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Anyway, during a routine internet search sesh today I ended up reading an excerpt of Fast Food Nation where they talk about the New Jersey flavor corridor.

THE New Jersey Turnpike runs through the heart of the flavor industry, an industrial corridor dotted with refineries and chemical plants. International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), the world’s largest flavor company, has a manufacturing facility off Exit 8A in Dayton, New Jersey; Givaudan, the world’s second-largest flavor company, has a plant in East Hanover. Haarmann & Reimer, the largest German flavor company, has a plant in Teterboro, as does Takasago, the largest Japanese flavor company. Flavor Dynamics has a plant in South Plainfield; Frutarom is in North Bergen; Elan Chemical is in Newark. Dozens of companies manufacture flavors in the corridor between Teaneck and South Brunswick. Altogether the area produces about two thirds of the flavor additives sold in the United States.

The flavor industry is highly secretive. Its leading companies will not divulge the precise formulas of flavor compounds or the identities of clients. The secrecy is deemed essential for protecting the reputations of beloved brands. The fast-food chains, understandably, would like the public to believe that the flavors of the food they sell somehow originate in their restaurant kitchens, not in distant factories run by other firms. A McDonald’s french fry is one of countless foods whose flavor is just a component in a complex manufacturing process. The look and the taste of what we eat now are frequently deceiving — by design.

So as much as I care about french fries (a lot) and hate McDonald’s (also a lot) what this sparked in my brain was actually a comparison between the “flavor corridor” of New Jersey and the “research triangle” in North Carolina. And sadly the only reason I’m familiar with the research triangle is because of a plane crash so random and terrifying it could easily be categorized as every mom’s worst nightmare – and often graces mine with its presence. The pilot of that plane was Dr. Michael Rosenberg, CEO of  Health Decisions, Inc., which is located in the triangle, and is referenced in many articles about the plane crash.

My mind was meandering about from the flavor corridor to the research triangle and I got to wondering about other locales with such industry-specific clusters, like Silicon Valley, obviously. I happened upon an article about how Albany is the New Austin when it comes to chip manufacturing, and I was instantly hooked by the image of Alain Kaloyeros, hands on hips, looking vaguely like some sort of ethnic(ier) steely-eyed Steve Jobs.

The article begins, however, not with Alain, but one Warren Montgomery…

Warren Montgomery joined IBM out of college 30 years ago, expecting the lifelong employment and blue-chip perks that others in his Hudson Valley family had enjoyed: weekends at the company’s country club, car loans made easy, and those silver spoons.

“When your kid was born, you’d get a silver spoon,” he said. “It was as if the kid was born with a silver spoon in his mouth because he was born to an IBMer. Why would you want to go anywhere else?”

Wait. Hold up. What? I found the revelation that IBM employees’ kids literally received silver spoons at birth equal parts surprising, oddly endearing, antiquated, and not unlike my surprise at the use of the title Silver Spoons for a sitcom about a super rich kid, it seemed a little tone-deaf in the sense that it could easily be seen as haughty and pretentious. Today, we would call it the “optics” of how it looks to bestow a baby with an actual silver spoon, considering it’s been a negative term pretty much since it’s first use, back in the 1700’s. The fun fact that IBM employees’ kids received silver spoons at birth should really be on the silver spoon Wikipedia page IMHO.

To be fair, this was a practice of another time, probably the fifties through the eighties, I don’t know. Maybe you knew about this, but it was news to me and I found it fascinating. I searched online for other references to the IBM silver spoons and I was only able to find a few.

From an IBM management document, circa 1975

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And here’s the only photo I could find as an example of said spoon

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Which was hilariously sourced from Twitter, where the recipient of above referenced spoon was subsequently called out as a “silver spooned snob”  #proof.

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Then there’s this, from IBM Employee Highlights | August 20, 2011

I was a second generation IBMer so I was part of the IBM family since I was a year old. My Brother has the silver spoon IBM sent when he was born…

And from IBM of 1956 is much different from IBM today

Retirees recall company picnics larger than most county fairs, including midway rides and entertainment. The star of the “Lone Ranger” TV show appeared at the 1962 picnic. Employees received engraved silver spoons for the arrival of a new child. There were massive Christmas parties where every child got a present.

That right there actually sounds pretty awesome. I didn’t grow up around big industry and I’ve only recently worked for a large, national organization, but the days of such large-scale perks for employees are long gone, I’m pretty sure. And I can’t confirm the practice of giving kids silver spoons is dead, but odds are it’s a relic of the past at this point. Also, does anybody else automatically think of the movie Mr. Mom when you think of company picnics, or is it just me?

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