In 1960, while cleaning out an unused area of the artist Lenore Tawney’s studio, Indiana uncovered a cache of nineteenth-century brass stencils originally used for labeling crates and packaging. These objects sparked his interest in using stenciled letters in his paintings and sculptures, and one in particular, “The American Hay Company,” inspired his use of words in a circular format.
The artist began using these stencils to create drawings in 1961, when he started experimenting in frottage, a technique that involves rubbing a medium such as pencil or crayon onto a sheet of paper that has been placed on top of a textured object or surface. The American Eat employs The American Hay Company stencil, and the word "eat" is incorporated twice, in a cruciform design. Eat is a word that appears consistently in Indiana’s work, eat having been the last word that his mother said to him before she died. It is the theme of works including the painting Eat (1962) and the sculptures Eat (1962) and Column Eat (1963–64), and is frequntly linked to the word die, as seen in Eat/Die (1962) and The Green Diamond Eat/The Red Diamond Die (1962).