Foodie Friday: Betty Crocker, an American Cultural Icon that Never Existed?

By: Sydnee Winston, Project Coordinator

Bestseller: "Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book" published in 1950

Betty Crocker is a cultural icon. For over 80 years she has been a mainstay in American kitchens—a “kitchen confidante” offering advice to troubled bakers who couldn’t figure out why their cakes wouldn’t  rise or how to make their pancakes fluffier.

Betty’s maternal and reassuring guidance was a comfort to many women, especially during the interwar period, so it may come as a surprise to many to learn that Betty Crocker never actually existed!

Betty Crocker is the creation of an advertising campaign designed by the Washburn-Crosby Company (a precursor to General Mills). Throughout the late 1910s and early 1920s, the Company received thousands of questions from women across country with requests for answers to their baking conundrums. In 1921 the company’s ad department decided the best solution was to create a warm, friendly and authoritative figure that could provide answers to their questions.

Betty Crocker was born!

Betty’s last name was taken from the recently retired director of Washburn-Crosby, William G. Crocker. “Betty” was chosen as her first name for its wholesome and maternal quality. Betty Crocker started her work for the company by lending her personal signature to letters concerning baking, cooking and domestic issues. In 1924 she began lending her “voice” to radio when Washburn-Crosby began airing a cooking radio show called, the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air. Marjorie Child Husted provided the voice behind Betty for the radio show. Husted was a home economist and she also wrote and hosted the show.

Soon after, the character Betty Crocker started to take form and come to life—literally. In 1936, Betty Crocker got a face when artist Neysa McMein blended the facial features of all of the Washburn-Crosby Company’s women employees that worked in the Home Service Department. The result—the iconic image of Betty Crocker that we’ve all seen at some point in our lives.

Betty’s look continued to morph over the next seventy-five years. Starting in 1955, she was drawn to look younger. During the mid-1960s she had a slight resemblance to Jackie Kennedy. In 1980, she became a “professorial” woman to reflect the social and cultural shifts of more women entering the workforce.

Check out this 1950s era commercial for Betty Crocker cake mix:

What are your memories of Betty Crocker when you were growing up? Did you know she wasn’t a real person? Join the conversation and then tweet #foodiefriday. Don’t forget to tune in for next week’s Foodie Friday post.

Source: http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/who-was-betty-crocker/

3 Responses to “Foodie Friday: Betty Crocker, an American Cultural Icon that Never Existed?”

  1. Charlotte Goodson says:

    What “memories”? I still have Betty’s cookbook on my shelf and she’s the first person I call on when I have a baking or cooking question! I’m 61 and I can’t remember a time when my mom didn’t have Betty on her shelf as well. I learned to bake cookies at Betty’s knee. I find it interesting that the older Betty gets, the younger she looks. Dorian Grey, perhaps??? Thanks for the posting.

  2. NWHM says:

    Hi Charlotte,

    Thank you for your kind remarks! Betty Crocker is certainly timeless. Please check back to our blog for daily posts!

  3. Raymond says:

    Interesting I didn’t know they put a face to Betty, (the one in 1972′s hair looks funky LOL).

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