Chronology of Soymilk Worldwide 
1500 A.D. to 1949 

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

©Copyright 2001 Soyfoods Center, Lafayette, California

1500 A.D. - The earliest known written reference to soymilk appears in China in a poem titled "Ode to Tofu," written by Su Ping

1665 - Soymilk is first mentioned by a Westerner, Domingo Fernández de Navarrete, in his book A Collection of Voyages and Travels. Navarrete served as a Dominican missionary in China.

1790 - Soymilk is mentioned by Juan de Loureiro in his book The Flora of Cochin China. Loureiro was a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who lived in what is now Vietnam. Note that each of these and many other early references mentioned soymilk as part of the process for making tofu.

1866 - Soymilk is first discussed as a drink in its own right by the Frenchman Paul Champion, who traveled in China. In a French-language article he stated that the Chinese had taken their cups to tofu shops to get hot soymilk, which they drank for breakfast.

1896 June - Soymilk is first referred to in the United States by Henry Trimble in the American Journal of Pharmacy.

1909 - The first soy-based infant formulas and soymilk made from full-fat soy flour are developed in the United States by John Ruhräh, a pediatrician. He reports his results in the Archives of Pediatrics (July 1909).

1910 - The world's first soy dairy, named Caséo-Sojaïne, is founded by Li Yu-ying, a Chinese citizen, biologist and engineer, at 46-48 Rue Denis Papin, Les Valées, Colombes (near Asnières), a few miles northwest of Paris. In December 1910 he applies for the world's first soymilk patents (British Patents No. 30,275 and 30,351). The first patent is titled "Vegetable milk and its derivatives." He is issued both patents in Feb. 1912.


1913 June 13 Li Yu-ying is issued the first U.S. soymilk patent (No. 1,064,841), titled "Method of manufacturing products from soja." He filed the application on 10 Oct. 1911.

1917 - Soymilk is being produced commercially in the U.S. by J. A. Chard Soy Products in New York City.

1929 Nov. - T. A. Van Gundy, founder of La Sierra Industries in Arlington, California, launches La Sierra Soy Milk, and becomes the first Seventh-day Adventist worldwide to make soymilk commercially. The product was canned and the beany flavor removed by live steam processing.

1931 - Madison Foods of Madison, Tennessee, introduces Madison Soy Milk - the world's earliest known soymilk to be fortified with calcium and the second commercial soymilk product made by Seventh-day Adventists in the USA. Madison Foods is a company run by students and faculty within Madison College, a pioneering work/study school.

1936 Jan. - Dr. Harry W. Miller and his son, Willis, start making Vetose Soya Milk, sold in natural or chocolate flavors in sterilized half pint or quart bottles at their Vetose Nutritional Laboratories in Shanghai, China. Dr. Miller is a Seventh-day Adventist physician, a student of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and a medical missionary living in China. The world's first "soy dairy," this company also made soy ice cream and Acidophilus Vetose (a cultured soya milk) - both launched in Jan. 1936. But Japan was invading China. Within months after the soy-milk business began booming, a Japanese bomb blew up the soy dairy.

1939 autumn - Dr. Harry W. Miller, forced by the war in China to return to the USA, starts making soymilk at Mt. Vernon, Ohio, in a large brick plant which he and co-workers built from the ground up. The first two products were canned liquid soymilk (made in a pressure cooker and fortified with vitamins and minerals) and malted soymilk (Soy-A-Malt). Pressure from the powerful U.S. dairy industry and the USDA convinced Miller not to call his product 'soymilk,' so he latinized the name to Soya Lac. This term was first used in late 1939 for Miller's first American soymilk.

1940 March - K. S. Lo, founder and managing director of the Hong Kong Soya Bean Products Co. Ltd. starts to make soymilk in Hong Kong. His product, originally named Vita Milk, was fortified with calcium, cod-liver oil, and vitamins, and sold in milk bottles, primarily as a nutritious, affordable beverage for refugees. In June 1940 the product was renamed Sunspot, and in 1953 it was renamed Vitasoy.The bottle of early VITASOY Soya Bean Milk


1950's - Soymilk enters the modern era as it begins to be marketed in bottles like soft drinks, largely due to work by K. S. Lo of Vitasoy in Hong Kong

and Yeo Hiap Seng in Singapore. 

1954 - Japan's first commercial soymilk, sold in bottles, is introduced by the Ueda Tofu Shop in Hachioji, Tokyo. Dr. Harry Miller was the inspiration for and helped to establish the shop.

1960s - In Japan, soymilk slowly increases in popularity. New manufacturers are: Nihon Tanpaku Kogyo (1962). College Health Foods (later renamed San-iku Foods) in Chiba Prefecture with its Soyalac (1969, also inspired and aided by Dr. Harry Miller). Luppy Tanpaku (House Shokuhin) in Saitama Prefecture with its Luppy soymilk (1969).

Japanese Children Enjoying Soymilk

1966 - The enzyme lipoxygenase is discovered by scientists at Cornell University [Ithaca, New York] to be responsible for the "beany" flavor in soymilk. A process is developed which could be used to help eliminate this flavor.

1967 - Soymilk begins to be packaged aseptically in Tetra Pak cartons. This allows it to be sold without refrigeration for six months or more. The first such product was Beanvit, made by Yeo Hiap Seng Ltd. in Singapore and packaged in a disposable tetrahedron-shaped container.

1970's and 1980's - Soymilk becomes a popular beverage throughout Asia, spreading to Europe, Australia and the United States.

Tetra Brik Aseptic packaging1979 - Hong Kong Soya Bean Products Co. Ltd. starts to export Vitasoy, packed in Tetra Brik cartons, to selected countries throughout the world. By the early 1980s exports were going to over 20 countries, both developed and developing. Exports to the USA began in 1980. 1980 Jan. - DE-VAU-GE Gesundkostwerk, a Seventh-day Adventist food company near Hamburg, Germany, launches GranoVita Soja Drink in 500 ml Tetra Brik cartons; this soymilk product is made by N.V. Vandemoortele (one of Europe's largest oilseed crushers, founded in 1934) in Izegem, Belgium.

Alpro Soja1980 June - N.V. Alpro is founded by Vandemoortele to take over production of this soymilk. Inspired and headed by Philippe Vandemoortele, Alpro purchased the land on which it was located from Vandemoortele, and became an independent manufacturer. Alpro quickly became Europe's leading producer of soymilk, making private-label brands for scores of companies.

1983 July - Edensoy brand soymilk is launched by Eden Foods of Clinton, Michigan. Imported from Japan (where it is made by Marusan-Ai Co.), it is sold in plain and carob flavors in stand-up foil retort pouches.


1984 Feb. - The first comprehensive study of the soymilk market in the U.S. is published by Soyfoods Center of Lafayette, California. It estimates that total soymilk consumption in the U.S. in 1983 (not including soy-based infant formulas) was 2.68 million gallons (26% of this was imported), and total production of soy-based infant formulas was 32 million gallons.

1984 Aug. - Westsoy Natural brand soymilk is launched by Westbrae Natural Foods of Emeryville, California. Imported from Japan (where it is made by San-Iku Foods), it is sold in one flavor in standup foil retort pouches.

1984 Oct. - Westbrae Natural Malted's, a thick soymilk resembling a milk shake, are launched in many flavors by Westbrae Natural Foods, imported from Japan.

1986 Nov. - Edensoy starts to be made in America by American Soy Products (ASP) at a large, modern plant in Saline, Michigan, and sold in Tetra Brik aseptic cartons. ASP is a joint venture of 4 Japanese companies and Eden Foods.

1988 Nov. - Pacific Foods of Oregon, launches its first soymilk product, Naturally Northwest Soy Beverage [Plain], in a 1-quart Tetra Brik Aseptic carton. The company's new factory is in Tualatin, Oregon.


1990 April - WestSoy Lite, America's first "lite" soymilk, with a low fat content, is introduced in plain, vanilla, and cocoa flavors by Westbrae Natural Foods. Made by adding water to regular soymilk, the product is less expensive to make, but also contains less nutrients.

1990 June - Alpro opens a new soymilk plant at Wevelgem, Belgium. Costing about US$15 million and having a capacity of 45 million liters a year, it is reputed to be the largest in the world. Alpro now makes about 70% of the soymilk in Europe.

1990 Sept. 24 - The company name is changed to Vitasoy International Holdings Ltd. from Hong Kong Soya Bean Products Co. Ltd.

1991 - There are at least 35 processors or marketers of soymilk in the U.S., increasing production to approximately 9.8 million gallons. Consumption is estimated to be growing at between 15 and 20% per year since 1984.

1993 - More than 200 scientific journal articles about soymilk have been published in English, and at least 80 English-language patents on soymilk have been issued between 1912 and 1993.

1994 Jan. - Soy-Um, a low-priced and attractively packaged soymilk, is launched by J&G Inc., a product developer and distributor in Chicago, Illinois. The product is made in Oregon by Pacific Foods.

1995 - A market study is published, estimating that $108 million of soymilk was sold in the U.S. in 1994. This equates to approximately 13.5 million gallons of soymilk. Sales are projected to have risen to over $130 million, or approximately 16.3 million gallons.


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