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2. America Warms Up

When margarine reached the US in the 1870s, American farmers were unenthusiastic, to say the least. The dairy industry successfully lobbied for the creation of the federal Margarine Act in 1886, which imposed a hefty tax on margarine. Some states even banned the alternative altogether. In 1902, however, Wilhelm Normann of Germany patented a hydrogenation process for hardening plant oils. This dramatically expanded market opportunities for these oils, bringing corn, cotton, safflower, sunflower, and soy farmers on board with the butter substitute. Cash became scarce during the depression, and World War II brought butter shortages. As a result, margarine found a place in American homes and the foodservice industry. A century after its creation, margarine rivaled butter in production, becoming the preferred table spread for people seeking to save money or limit saturated fats in their diets.

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