Stories Behind 10 Famous Food Logos

You don't have to go far to find fascinating stories behind some of the world's most famous logos. Just take a look inside your kitchen cabinets ...

Morton Salt: The Morton Umbrella Girl

Morton Salt, as its name clearly states, makes salt. The company got its start as a small Midwestern sales agency in 1848. In 1889, Joy Morton bought a major interest in the company and in 1910, he changed its name to Morton Salt Company.

The Morton Umbrella Girl got her start in 1914. The logo was produced as part of a series of ads in Good Housekeeping. The concept was that Morton Salt - unlike regular salt of the day - poured without clumps, even in damp weather. The company added magnesium carbonate as an absorbing agent to ensure that its table salt poured freely (it had since been changed to calcium silicate).

At first, the advertising agency suggested "Even in rainy weather, it flows freely" as the company's motto. Morton felt that it was too long, and the motto was changed to the catchier "When it Rains it Pours."

Source: The History of the Umbrella Girl

Heinz 57 Varieties

Did you ever wonder why Heinz Ketchup bottle has a label that says "57 Varieties"? (Photo: williamhartz [Flickr])

Well, it turns out that while riding a train in New York City in 1896, Henry John Heinz noticed an ad for "21 styles of shoes." He thought that it was a clever way to advertise the great number of choices of canned and bottled foods that his company sold. Back then, the company already sold more than 60 items but Heinz put together "5" (his lucky number) and "7" (his wife's lucky number) to get "57 varieties".

That number must be really lucky, because H.J. Heinz Company grew to be a behemoth in the food industry. It currently sells more than 5,700 varieties in 200 countries and territories.

Oh, and by the way, Heinz' first product wasn't ketchup. It was bottled horseradish made from his mother's own recipe.

Sources: Snopes (a very interesting history on the life of H.J. Heinz) and Heinz

Jolly Green Giant: The Logo that Became the Company

In 1925, Minnesota Valley Canning Company wanted to market its canned peas (a particularly large variety of peas, actually), so it came up with an unusual mascot: a grumpy grey gnome, wearing a scruffy bearskin, stooping and scowling. If that doesn't seem like a mascot that would induce you to buy products, you'd be right.

So the company hired an ad agency to revamp the mascot's image. A young ad man named Leo Burnett (who later became a legend in advertising) was assigned the task and he revamped it into a smiling green giant wearing a skimpy tunic, wreath and boots made of leaves. He also named it "Jolly." (Source)

The Jolly Green Giant was such a successful marketing ploy that in 1950 the company changed its name into Green Giant.

[YouTube Link]

The company's first TV commercial in 1953 featured the Jolly Green Giant as a puppet (in a stop-motion animation) roaming the valley and saying "fo fum fi fe." What they didn't anticipate was how scary he turned out to be to children! Needless to say, they didn't continue the ads ...

In 1978, the town of Blue Earth, Minnesota, put a 55-foot (~ 17 m) tall fiberglass statue of the Jolly Green Giant to welcome visitors to the local Blue Earth Green Giant plant. Every Christmas, the townspeople put a red scarf around its neck, so it doesn't get too cold!

La Vache qui Rit: The Laughing Cow

1921 photo credit: Illustration de Benjamin Rabier, ProLitteris Zurich; 1949 red cow via Les Arts Decoratifs; current logo via wikipedia

At the end of World War I, a French cheesemaker named Léon Bel had a lot of leftover comté, gruyere, and emmental cheeses and decided to melt them down to create a new type of cheese.

In 1921, Bel saw a traveling meat truck nicknamed "Wachkyrie," after "Valkyries," the creatures in Norse mythology that determine the victors in the battle, and thought that it would make a good name for his cheese. Well, actually a pun of the name: La Vache qui Rit ("The Laughing Cow"). Bel commissioned Benjamin Rabier, who later became a famous cartoon artist, to draw the laughing cow logo.

The original La Vache qui Rit wasn't laughing. It also wasn't red and it didn't wear the tiny cheese earrings. Bel asked his printer Vercasson to make the changes - but that's not all that Vercasson did: he also trademarked the "Red Cow" design. Bel was later forced to pay for the right to use his own logo! (Source)

If you look closely at the cow's earring, you'll see that it's actually a package of La Vache qui Rit cheese, with a picture of the red cow on it. And yes, that cow has earrings of cheese, which have another picture of a red cow ad infinitum. (It's an example of the Droste effect, if you must know).

But why is the cow laughing? (Indeed, that is the motto of the cheese) Well, given that the Laughing Cow cheese is now sold in more than 90 countries, with 125 portions of the cheese wedge eaten every second around the world - it seems that the cow is laughing all the way to the bank!

Aunt Jemima

In 1889, Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood developed a ready-mixed, self-rising pancake flour. All they needed was a name. One evening, Rutt heard a song called "Old Aunt Jemima," sung by a black-faced vaudeville performer clad in apron and a bandana headband, and so "Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Company" was born.

A year later, the duo sold their business to R.T. Davis, who brought Aunt Jemima to life - literally - by hiring Nancy Green, a former slave to play her. Green portrayed Aunt Jemima for 30 years till her death in 1923. Davis' campaign was so successful that people thought that Aunt Jemima was a real Southern cook who came up with the pancake mix recipe. Since then, six more women had portrayed the jovial cook (Source)

(Photos: Nancy Green via African American Registry; Anna Robinson via NY Times/Bettmann/Corbis; Edith Wilson via Redhotjazz; Rosie Lee Moore Hall via RTIS; Aylene Lewis via Stuff from the Park; not pictured: Ethel Ernestine Harper and Ann Short Harrington)

In her book Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus , author Marilyn Kern-Foxworth calls Aunt Jemima "the most battered woman in America" - and the portrayal of this character certainly reflected the societal change that America went through over the years. In the 1950s, the black "Mammy" in kerchief look was criticized as being an outdated and negative portrayal of African-American women. As a result, Quaker Oats Company (which bought the company and brand in 1926) modernized the image of Aunt Jemima: for her 100th anniversary, the company transformed her into a younger, thinner woman, all dressed up with a pearl earring and no kerchief. The bright warm smile, however, remains. (Source)

Betty Crocker

The story of how Betty Crocker came to be is quite interesting. In the early 1920s, the Washburn Crosby Company of Minneapolis (a big milling company that later merged with other companies to form General Mills) got a lot of mails from its customers asking baking questions.

In 1921, the company thought that it would be better to sign the responses personally, so they combined the last name of its director, William Crocker, with the first name "Betty" (chosen because "it sounded cheery, wholesome, and folksy.") (Source) The famous Betty Crocker signature was penned by a company secretary who won a contest.

The whole Betty Crocker persona was carefully engineered to appeal to women:

A group of college educated women were hired to develop Betty’s persona. Her picture and signature appeared in print ads. Cooking demonstrations were organized showing off Betty’s “solutions to domestic woes.” [...]

On the radio, Betty could speak to her loyal followers. Cooking and Gold Medal Flour were central to the script. But so were housekeeping, time management, friends, family, and husbands. “If you load a man’s stomach with boiled cabbage and greasy fried potatoes,” Betty once told listeners, “can you wonder that he wants to start a fight, or go out and commit a crime?” But she also reminded women that their role as homemakers was important, and that their aspirations could be “as great as woman could have in any occupation.” (Source)

In 1924, Betty Crocker debuted on the radio (on the nation's first cooking show). In 1936, Betty Crocker got a face: artist Neysa McMein brought together all women in the General Mills' Home Service Department and created a composite face. Over the next eight decades, Betty had several makeovers to update her look to fit the times!

Images: Susan Marks - via Minnesota Public Radio

(If you're interested in finding out more about Betty Crocker, Susan Marks wrote the definitive book, Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food)

Chef Boyardee

Legends have it that Chef Boyardee was named for the men who created him (Boyd, Art, and Dennis), and given the other made-up food mascots, you'd be forgiven if you believed it.

Chef Boiardi appearing in his own TV commercial, c. 1953 [YouTube Link]

But in this case, there actually was a real-life Chef Boyardee! His name was Ettore "Hector" Boiardi (1897-1985). Boiardi immigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old and worked himself up to head chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York. When Chef Boiardi opened his own restaurant, so many of his customers asked for extra portions of his spaghetti sauce to take home that he opened a factory to keep up with orders. To help Americans pronounce his name correctly, he named his brand Chef Boy-Ar-Dee (later the company got rid of the hypens).

Sara Lee

In 1932, Charles W. Lubin pooled his money with his brother-in-law to purchase a small chain of bakeries called the Community Bake Shops. When he came out with a new line of cheesecakes, his wife Tillie told him that he should name it after their daughter, Sara Lee.

The Sara Lee cheesecakes were so popular that in 1950, Lubin renamed his company the Kitchens of Sara Lee. When his company was bought out by Consolidated Foods, that company also renamed itself Sara Lee Corporation!

The real Sara Lee Lubin never held management position in the company, though she did appear as a spokesperson in some ads. Today, Sara Lee Lubin Schupf is a philantrophist and devotes her time to support the advancement of girls and women in science. (Source)

Quaker Oats

Quick: what does the Quaker Oats cereal have to do with the religious Christian denomination The Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers? Turns out ... nothing - only clever advertising.

In 1877, Henry D. Seymour and William Heston founded a mill in Ravenna, Ohio, and named it the Quaker Mill. There are conflicting stories as to how the name came to be. One legend has it that Seymour chose the name after reading an encyclopedia entry on the Quakers:

"The name was chosen when Quaker Mill partner Henry Seymour found an encyclopedia article on Quakers and decided that the qualities described — integrity, honesty, purity — provided an appropriate identity for his company's oat product." (Source)

Another story said that Heston was walking on the streets of Cincinnati when he ran across a picture of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania and a famous Quaker (Source). In whichever case, later that year the company trademarked the Quaker Man, described as "The figure of a man in Quaker garb." It was the first US trademark ever registered for a breakfast cereal.

The original 1877 Quaker Man was a full-length picture of a Quaker holding a scroll with the word "pure" on it (just in case the integrity/honesty/purity point didn't get across). In 1946, graphic designer Jim Nash created a black and white head portrait of the smiling Quaker Man and in 1957, Haddon Sundblom made the full-color portrait. The last update to the logo was in 1972, when Saul Bass created the stylized graphic that still appears on Quaker Oats product packages today.

Gerber Baby

In 1928, Frank Daniel Gerber and his son Daniel Frank Gerber (yes, I know) of Fremont Canning Company wanted to promote their new product: baby food. The company had been a small packager of peas, beans, and fruits in rural Michigan. Daniel convinced his father to manufacture and sell strained baby food (at the time, preparing food for infant was a tedious chore of cooking and mashing things).

The Gerbers wanted a baby face to brand their new baby food, and held a contest. Amongst the many drawings and paintings submitted (including some elaborate oil paintings of baby portraits) was an unfinished charcoal sketch by Dorothy Hope Smith of Boston. Dorothy drew a five month old baby with tousled hair and bright blue eyes, using her neighbor's baby as a model. She offered to finish the sketch if she won, but the judges decided to use it as it was.

The Gerber Baby turned out to be so popular that over a decade later, the company changed its name to Gerber Products Company.

Oh, and who was the original Gerber Baby? Her name is Ann Turner Cook, a mystery author and former high school English literature teacher. You can find out more about Ann and her three published mystery books at her official website.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love the rest of the Logo series on Neatorama:

Evolution of Tech Logos Evolution of Car Logos Stories Behind Hollywood Studio Logos

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Wow, this was written a while back but still very useful information especially about Morton Salt, which is the topic of my recent blog post at However, I wonder why the company has not updated the Umbrella Girl image since 1968! It's now 2010 so I think it's time to update the image soon.
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I've seen both the 1972 and 1957 versions of the Quaker logo here in Canada.

I don't have any Quaker products in front of me, but I think maybe the 1972 logo is currently used as a small logo up near the top or on the back near the small print, while the 1957 gets prime real estate up front.
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The "Quaker Guy" does appear on the front packaging of many Quaker products but the official company logo resides on the side of the package with the company info
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