Cyril Callister – The Man Who Invented Vegemite

Day 285 of Colourisation Project – February 16

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

It’s definitely an acquired taste. You either hate it or love it. Anyone living outside of Australia most likely hates it. Anyone living within our borders…well, we just love it!

Vegemite! It is the one constant in our ever changing lives. It’s the first thing Aussie travellers pack into their backpacks when setting off overseas. What apple pie is to America, so too is Vegemite to Australia.

So great is our love for the velvety black gooey substance that it has become a default symbol of our Australian identity.

Cyril Callister

Passport Photo – Cyril Callister – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

So today’s colourisation gives honour to the man who invented it. Born this day, 16 February in 1893, Cyril Percy Callister, one of Australia’s leading food technologists of the 1920s and 30s developed what is essentially a yeast extract spread.

Callister was hired by the Fred Walker Company (a Melbourne based manufacturer later known as Kraft) as a laboratory assistant to develop a product similar to the British Marmite spread, following the disruption of its importation after World War I.

In 1922 Callister found a way to create a spread from spent brewer’s yeast, which is rich in minerals as well as B-complex vitamins. Callister was able to break down the yeast cells from waste obtained from the Carlton & United Brewery to produce an almost black sticky food paste with various vegetable and spice additives.

A competition offering a 50-pound prize was held to come up with a name for this new product. The name Vegemite was selected from hundreds of entries. Marketed as a ‘pure vegetable extract,’ the product was launched in 1923.

Vegemite was registered as a trademark in Australia that year. Ironically, the registration was later transferred to Kraft, now a US multinational.

For the first 15 years,Vegemite was pretty much shunned by the public. Poor sales of Vegemite resulted in its name being changed in 1928 to ‘Parwill’. In an effort to emulate the success of Marmite, the logic behind the re-branding strategy was simple; “If Marmite…then Parwill.”

Good in theory but Parwill failed to gain momentum and it was only due to Callister’s relentless dedication for his invention and a change back to the original Vegemite brand that the paste has become an indispensable product in everyone’s pantry.

Australians eventually came to embrace what would later become an Australian icon. In 1954 Kraft Foods ran a television campaign with an infectious jingle that propelled sales. The ad continued intermittently through to the late 1960s and the Vegemite song ‘Happy Little Vegemites‘ could be heard resounding across schoolyards throughout the country nudging Waltzing Matilda in the popularity stakes.

The commercial was reprised in 2010 much to the glee of a new generation of consumers as well as the faithful.  Today over 22 million jars of Vegemite are sold annually. There’s a reason for that but only Australians seem to understand why.

Callister was also known for packing cheese in a can to preserve it and developing Kraft’s processed cheese but that’s another story…

Callister died from a heart attack in 1949.

Just to refresh your memories, I  leave you today with the 1954 commercial for Vegemite which etched the lyrics of the song, We’re happy little Vegemites into our National sub-conscience and placed the phrase, Happy little Vegemites  firmly into the Australian lexicon.

Enjoy …and remember, whatever you do, “Be sure you put Vegemite next to the pepper and salt whenever you set the table.”


We’re Happy Little Vegemites  ~ 1954 Jingle

We’re happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch, and tea.
Our mummies say we’re growing stronger
Every single week,
Because we love our Vegemite
We all adore our Vegemite
It puts a rose in every cheek.

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1 Response to Cyril Callister – The Man Who Invented Vegemite

  1. Wonderful post! I grew up in NZ but we were always a Vegemite family whereas NZers are usually Marmite eaters. The name debacle was fascinating and reminded me of the misplaced attempt to name the cheese variation iSnack 2.0 – again as the result of a public competition to choose the name. It was changed to Cheesymite (I think) after poor sales.


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