Back in the late 1800s, Emperor Napoleon III of France offered a prize to anyone who could come up with a substitute for butter that would be cheap enough to be used by the lower classes. The winning spread, invented by a chemist named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès and composed of rendered beef fat and skim milk, became known as margarine.
Mège-Mouriès may have won the prize, but he couldn’t fool the French into eating the stuff — not even the poor French — so he sold the patent to a Dutch company. Later that century, in the face of a beef-tallow shortage (I know; hard to believe), another chemist, from Binghamton, New York, came up with a way to manufacture margarine from a combination of animal and vegetable fats. The Great Depression further reduced the availability of animal fat, while butter shortages during World War II increased the popularity of an all-vegetable-oil version.