In 1922, Fred Walker (1884-1935) of Melbourne, Australia decided to try to make a special "yeast extract" that would be as delicious as it was nourishing for his Fred Walker Cheese Company to sell.
The chief scientist in the company Fred owned was Dr. Cyril P. Callister, and it was Dr. Callister who invented the first Vegemite spread. He used brewer's yeast and blended the yeast extract with ingredients like celery, onion, salt, and a few secret ingredients to make this paste.
A national competition and a prize of 50 pounds was offered to the winner or winners to name the new product.. The name ‘Vegemite’ was finally chosen from the entries by Fred’s daughter Sheilah .
With its unusual and unique flavour, Vegemite was not an immediate success and sales were slow. In 1928 Vegemite was renamed and registered as Parwill in an attempt to boost its sales and to attract customers of the rival spread Marmite (an English yeast spread that had dominated the Australian market since 1910). "If Marmite...then Parwill" was the rationale behind Walker's strategy to carve a niche in the market for his spread. The name Parwill and Walker's play on words didn't catch on. It was only sold as Parwill for a short time in Queensland. The name was withdrawn in 1935, and the original name was reinstated.
The Happy Little Vegemite Song
We are happy little Vegemites as bright as bright can be,
Earlier, in 1925, Walker had arranged with the Chicago, Illinois firm of James L. Kraft to make processed cheese in Australia. A company called the Kraft Walker Cheese Co. was established alongside Fred Walker and Co. In 1935, Walker used the success of his processed cheese to launch a new campaign to revive Vegemite. The company launched 2-year coupon redemption scheme whereby a jar of Vegemite was given away with every purchase of other products in the Fred Walker Cheese Company. Australians tried the product and loved it. Vegemite was well and truly on the road to success.
Two years later, the company held a poetry competition and once again brought Vegemite into the national spotlight. This time its success the prizes were imported American Pontiac cars. Entries flooded in and sales multiplied.
In 1935, the recipe and manufacturing methods was sold to Kraft Foods and has been wholly owned and made by American companies. In 1939 Vegemite received endorsement from the British Medical Association which allowed doctors to recommend it as a Vitamin B-rich, nutritionally balanced food for patients.
In World War II, soldiers, sailors, and the civilian population of Australia all had Vegemite included in their rations. Soldiers’ Vegemite came in three sizes: seven-pound tins for the platoon, eight-ounce tins for soldiers on the go, and half-ounce rations for behind enemy lines. This war-time demand meant that civilian supply were limited. Hence, advertisements were run to explain the situation:
“Vegemite fights with the men up north! If you are one of those who don’t need Vegemite medicinally, then thousands of invalids are asking you to deny yourself of it for the time being.”
The main change to the original recipe in recent years has been to reduce the salt content from 10% to 8%.
22.7 million jars of Vegemite are manufactured in Australia every year - that's 235 jars per minute.
30 jars are sold in Australia for every one exported.
Vegemite is in nine out of ten pantries in Australia.