Crisco wasn’t invented by or for the German Navy, or for the purpose of lubricating submarines. Hydrogenation, the process by which Crisco is made from vegetable oils, was invented by German chemist Wilhelm Normann in 1901. Whether Crisco or similar products were ever used as submarine lubricants remains undetermined.
Crisco was lauded as a revolutionary addition to the kitchen at its inception. The first shortening product made entirely of vegetable oils, Crisco has a higher melting point than other oils and has become a versatile alternative to bakers in commercial and home kitchens alike.
In recent years, Crisco has also become the subject of online rumors, as claims online and on social media suggested that the German government invented the product as a lubricant for its submarine fleet in 1901.
The Crisco brand was launched in 1911, according to the company's website. Originally made from hydrogenated cottonseed oil, as of 2023 Crisco contained a combination of soybean and palm oils, among other ingredients.
A spokesperson for the American Oil Chemists' Society (AOCS) told Snopes that the German navy had no record of using Crisco, and that without evidence to substantiate it, the notion is "just conjecture." As such, we have rated this claim as "Unfounded."
Snopes traced the claim to a video shared on YouTube on Dec. 10, 2019, (archived here) by Joel Wallach, co-founder of the lifestyle company Youngevity International, Inc. (YGI), which sells nutritional and wellness products. As Lead Stories reported in May 2023, YGI described Wallach as a research veterinarian and naturopathic physician who believes that "all humans require 90 essential nutrients to achieve and maintain optimal health." (Snopes contacted Youngevity for comment and will update this article should we receive a response.)
In the video, Wallach made several unfounded claims regarding cholesterol, and to support his argument (and presumably his business), Wallach stated:
It all started back in 1901 when a German chemist was actually commissioned, I guess would be the word, by the German navy, to come up with a lubricant – a synthetic lubricant – for diesel engines used in submarines, and he was successful.
Wallach added that this chemist, Wilhelm Normann, eventually sold his patent to Procter & Gamble for use in the food market.
It is true that in 1901, Normann invented hydrogenation, a chemical process that would eventually provide the foundation for the process of making liquid oils, margarine, and soaps. Hydrogenation reduces or saturates organic compounds to make vegetable oils and is not unique to Crisco, according to the AOCS Lipid Library.
Chem Europe, an international organization of chemical societies, wrote that Normann patented the technology (patent number 141,029) in Germany on Aug. 14, 1902, and in Britain (patent number 1515) on Jan. 21, 1903. It was described as a "Process for Converting Unsaturated Fatty Acids or their Glycerides into Saturated Compounds."
Crisco was created a decade after hydrogenation. The historical record shows that the chemistry came before the application.
According to 2007 research published in The Journal of Industrial Engineering Chemistry, work began in 1908 to bring hydrogenation technology to the U.S., resulting in two patents issued in 1910 — Food Products 1,135,351 and 1,135,951 — both of which were granted on April 13, 1915, and assigned to Proctor and Gamble Co., Cincinnati, Ohio:
Note that about five years elapsed from the time that the patents were applied for until their issuance. The former is based on partial hydrogenation of cottonseed while the latter is based on blending completely hydrogenated cottonseed oil with liquid cottonseed oil.
Rebecca Guenard, AOCS director of publications, told Snopes via email that the organization had nothing in its archives "that would indicate Crisco was invented by the German government for the purpose of lubrication."
"The primary application for hydrogenated vegetable oils was as an animal fat replacement in food. Besides, at the turn of the 20th century, petroleum-based lubricants were already realized as superior," concluded Guenard.
Crisco was marketed as a brand name for the first time in 1911 and was originally made from hydrogenated cottonseed oil. In 2023, ingredients in Crisco had changed and contained a combination of soybean and palm oils – not the same ingredients as in 1901. At the time of this publication, Crisco's ingredient list included the following:
Soybean Oil, Fully Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Palm Oil, Mono and Diglycerides, TBHQ and Citric Acid (Antioxidants), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Beta-carotene (Pro Vitamin A) Added for Color. 50% Less Saturated Fat than Butter*Crisco Shortening: 3.5g saturated fat per tablespoon.
"Animal and vegetable oils have been used as lubricants for centuries. So, it is not the wildest idea," wrote Guenard, adding that, "The German government certainly could have attempted to use a hydrogenated oil for lubrication before the brand name was invented."
Snopes also contacted Crisco and the Naval History and Heritage Command for further information regarding the historical context of Crisco’s invention and will update this article accordingly.