In 1934 the Maxwell House Haggadah was published for the first time by the
Joseph Jacobs Advertising Agency of New York City. At some point, almost every Jew in North America has held a copy of this Haggadah at a Passover table.
Traditionally, Ashkenazi Jews (whose ancestors came from either Central, Northwestern,
and/or Eastern Europe) followed a traditional custom not to drink coffee during
Passover under the mistaken belief that the coffee bean was an actual bean that
therefore fell into the category of legumes, and any food, which fell into this category, was
religiously forbidden to be consumed during Passover.
In 1923, Joseph Jacobs, the eponymous owner of the Joseph Jacobs agency in
New York City, consulted an Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Hersch Kohn,
to determine if the Maxwell House coffee bean was, in a technical sense, more similar
to a berry - a fruit - than a bean and therefore, kosher for Passover, meaning it would be
permitted by the Orthodox rabbi to be consumed during Passover. After the Orthodox
rabbi issued his approval and certification that the Maxwell House coffee bean was in
fact, kosher for Passover, General Foods, with the help of the Joseph Jacobs
Advertising Agency, started to market Maxwell House coffee for Passover to Jews in
New York City.
Sales of Maxwell House coffee during Passover among the
Jewish population rose dramatically. The success of this strategy led Jacobs to
reinforce the kosher-for-Passover message by developing a Haggadah for Maxwell
House in 1934.
The Maxwell House Haggadah was to be printed and then distributed for free to supermarkets across the United States, with free copies offered to consumers with the purchase of any Maxwell House coffee product.
Since the Maxwell House Haggadah, noted for its simplicity, was given away as a premium with purchase of the coffee, it became one of the most popular Haggadahs in North America.
In fact, the Maxwell House Haggadah is still being produced and offered today, making it
the longest running sales promotion in advertising history.
Over 50 million Maxwell House Haggadahs have been printed, making it the most widely used
Haggadah in the world, and the most widely circulated Judaica item in the world. The
result of this advertising campaign was that Maxwell House coffee became the preferred
coffee in Jewish households. In the mid-1960’s, the Haggadah used a more modern
English-language translation, and in 1997, the color scheme, traditionally a blue color,
was changed to a multicolor scheme. Today, Maxwell House is owned by Kraft Foods.