Esskay Meats is a Baltimore-based meat company, specializing in hot dogs, sausages, and ham. The company has its roots in a 1919 merger between the separate meatpacking concerns of William Schluderberg and Thomas J. Kurdle. The resulting entity was initially known as the Schluderberg-Kurdle Co., but soon became popularly known as "Esskay", based on the phonetic pronunciation of the founders' paired initials. Esskay, which as late as 1966 was still slaughtering its own cattle, promoted its products through the slogan "Taste the difference Ka-wality makes!" The company also sought out unique approaches to advertising, most notably utilizing the talents of two burgeoning satirists/pitchmen, Jim Henson and Stan Freberg.
As the original sponsor for Sam and Friends, Esskay served as the launching pad for Henson's experiments in using puppets and sharp humor to sell products. Each Sam and Friends episode was closed by a commercial skit for Esskay Meats.
The relationship between Esskay and Henson continued through the 1960s, with human spokesperson Pat Mackenzie co-starring with the Muppets. More than 30 Esskay spots were produced between 1959 and 1963, featuring Kermit, Harry the Hipster, Sneegle, King Goshposh, Rowlf, Moldy Hay and Yorick.
One Esskay commercial featured Rowlf at the helm of an Esskay Luncheon Meat machine. With the pull of a lever, Rowlf could have the machine roll off a new Esskay meat product in seconds. Pat Mackenzie expounded on the benefits of Esskay's victuals, while Rowlf observed that "Esskay Meats are made up to a standard, not down to a price". Towards the end of the commercial, Rowlf allowed Pat to pull the lever herself, prompting her to "hit the jackpot" by creating an Esskay Luncheon Meats bonanza platter.
In another commercial with Pat, Kermit sat at the breakfast table. He explained how great it would be if Esskay could combine the great tastes of their sausage and bacon into one product. Pat lightened Kermit's morning by serving him new Esskay Pork & Bacon Sausage. Kermit closed the commercial by planting a kiss on the tube of processed sausage.
Kermit appeared alongside Pat, where he details a nasty character who hates Esskay bacon. He proceeds to give a patriotic ramble about the company. In another ad, Kermit and Harry the Hipster perform a scat as Pat does her sales pitch.
King Goshposh made an early appearance in an Esskay Meats commercial. In a spot for Esskay brand ham, the monarch endorses Esskay because he loves to collect the gold foil wrapping.
In May 2016, Museum of the Moving Image presented a number of commercials that had recently been restored from the Henson Archives, including Professor Madcliffe and Henrietta (referred to here as Mildred) who kept mispronouncing words in the script, Madcliffe and Icky Gunk as spies, Kermit and Harry the Hipster scatting some jazz on piano, Kermit and Harry describing a bacon package displayed on the wall at an art gallery, and Harry (in drag, as a librarian) suggesting meat books to Kermit in a library.
As Henson's advertising career continued, Muppets Inc. went on to produce commercials for another purveyor of canned sandwich filler, Wilson's Meats, before moving on to full-length Muppet television narratives. As for Esskay, the company was acquired by Smithfield Foods in 1986, but the brand name and logo remain active, with Esskay franks serving as the official hot dog for the Baltimore Orioles and other local sports teams.