NORTHFIELD, ILL. — Launched as a public company on Oct. 1, 2012, Kraft Foods as it is known today has annual revenues of more than $18 billion and more than 25 brands with over $100 million in sales. Now poised to combine with the H.J. Heinz Co., Kraft would be part of the third largest North American food and beverage company with estimated sales of $28 billion.

Following the buzz of the multi-billion-dollar mega-merger announced last week, Food Business News compiled pieces of the company’s rich (and cheesy) history, which began in 1903 when James Lewis Kraft began selling wholesale cheese to small stores in Chicago.

Say cheese

In 1916, Mr. Kraft received a patent for making processed cheese, which involved continuously whisking cheddar heated at 175 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.

“This invention relates to an improved process of sterilizing cheese to render it permanently keeping, and to the product thereby produced,” Mr. Kraft wrote in his patent, “Process of Sterilizing Cheese and an Improved Product Produced by Such Process.”

Individually wrapped Kraft Singles came much later — in 1965.

O-S-C-A-R meets M-I-C-K-E-Y

Oscar Mayer & Co. signed an agreement with Walt Disney Productions to sponsor a branded restaurant at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., in 1971.

In addition to sponsoring the restaurant, which had a turn-of-the-century design and served upscale cuisine, Oscar Mayer supplied meat products for other restaurants and food service outlets in the Magic Kingdom. Menu items included a Monte Cristo sandwich, chopped steak and crepes jambalaya. An item called Wieners a la Oscar featured two Oscar Mayer wieners with baked beans and coleslaw.

The test of time

Nineteen of Kraft’s brands are more than 100 years old, dating back to the debut of Grey Poupon Dijon mustard in 1777. Oscar Mayer was introduced in 1883, Maxwell House launched in 1892, and Jell-O first appeared in 1897.

Batteries no longer included

Kraft in a merger with Dart Industries Inc. in 1980 acquired the Duracell brand. Dart & Kraft, Inc. spun off most of its non-food businesses and changed its name to Kraft, Inc. in 1986. Two years later, Kraft, Inc. sold the batteries business to Duracell Holdings Corp., an affiliate of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., and became an all-food company for the first time in more than three decades.

Getting nutty

In Canada, the company sells a line of Kraft peanut butter in such flavors as chocolate, honey, banana granola peanut, and cinnamon granola.

Feeding the needy

Through Feeding America, Kraft has provided more than 1 billion servings of food to those in need since 1997. The company’s employees also help maintain a garden in Chicago to provide fresh produce for local food pantries and Women, Infants and Children centers.