I love pancakes. I can have them at any time of the day. I don’t need fancy accompaniments – a little butter, lots of maple syrup, and that’s about it. Living in a not-so-big-city with not a lot of breakfast places except the hotels with their buffets, finding pancakes was a challenge. Mixing together a pancake batter and making pancakes at home didn’t quite turn out the way I would have liked. Making pancakes is trickier than making dosas. Walking through the aisles of the supermarket one day, I bumped into a bright yellow box that said, “Betty Crocker’s Pancake Mix”. Never been one for moderation, I dropped the biggest box of this pancake mix into my cart, and off I went. Since then, I have always had this bright yellow box of Betty Crocker’s Pancake Mix in my pantry. Betty Crocker also helped me bake a few cakes at home. Like me, a lot of people owe Betty Crocker a lot of joy and happiness, the one you get from eating warm pancakes, delicious moist cake with some yummy frosting.
This got me thinking, who is Betty Crocker and how did she build this gigantic empire. The mixes I bought were imported, so this empire is sure international. What’s the story and how did Betty become a household name synonymous with boxed cake mixes and canned frostings? I found something quite surprising.
How famous is Betty Crocker?
Betty Crocker is the ‘Dear Abby’ of cooking, you know the one people about a generation or two before me used to write letters to, who would then publish the answers in the newspaper or magazine. She was the kitchen confidante, a maternal, guiding presence for countless women around the world. Betty Crocker was someone people trusted with the most frustrating kitchen woes – making pancakes in my case, the batter was always either too runny or too thick, and adding eggs and beating, and it is all so complicated! Betty had answers to every kitchen question women had – from new recipes to how to make pancakes fluffy. Betty encouraged women to experiment and try something new in the kitchen. For home cooks like me, Betty Crocker is such a blessing!
Who is Betty Crocker?
Let me break this to you now – there is NO Betty Crocker. Betty Crocker is not a real person. Betty Crocker is the result of an advertising campaign developed by the Washburn-Crosby company. The Washburn-Crosby company was a flour milling company that was started in the 1800s. The company eventually went on to become General Mills. Washburn-Crosby had a product called Gold Medal Flour. The company created an ad for this flour in 1921, which was published in the Saturday Evening Post. The ad had a puzzle of a quaint main street scene. People were encouraged to complete the puzzle and mail the responses, to have a chance at winning a pincushion that was shaped like a sack of this Gold Medal flour. The company received over 30,000 responses which was overwhelming. Interestingly, people weren’t sending just the puzzle responses. Along with the responses, people were sending questions related to baking and cooking. This was something nobody had expected.
Earlier, the company would receive such questions occasionally, the small advertising department of the company would reach out to the Gold Medal Home Service staff, and send out responses to this mail. The then department manager – Samuel Gale felt awkward signing his name for these responses, he felt it would be better if these women asking the questions received their responses from a woman. With the huge number of questions that came in along with the puzzle responses, there was a need for a female authority on baking and cooking, who could answer all these questions. This is where a female ‘Chief of Correspondence’ was invented – a fictitious woman named Betty Crocker. William G Crocker was the director of Washburn-Crosby who had just retired, that’s where the last name came from. Betty was a common cheerful first name, something the company felt women across America could connect with. Hence, the name – Betty Crocker. The iconic signature that was used to sign all the responses that were sent out in the name of Betty Crocker was designed by a secretary at the company – Florence Lindeberg.
Three years later, in 1924, Washburn-Crosby began airing a cooking radio show, which is when Betty Crocker got promoted from being just a signature to someone with a voice. The show was called Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air. It began at the Minneapolis radio station WCCO and then went national. A home economist – Marjorie Child Husted wrote and hosted the show, becoming the voice of Betty Crocker. In 1945, the Fortune magazine declared Betty Crocker as the second most popular woman in all of America. The first, of course, was Eleanor Roosevelt.
Further along the timeline, in 1951, Betty Crocker got a face when Washburn-Crosby hired the actress Adelaide Hawley to act as Betty Crocker on television. Well, Hawley was the first of many women who went on to play Betty Crocker over the years.
Over time, the picture used for Betty Crocker also changed significantly. The first official portrait of Betty Crocker was an amalgamation of the facial features of all the women employees of Washburn-Crosby, an attempt to signify that all the women of the company had a hand in the success of Betty Crocker. The image was updated from time-to-time. In 1965, Betty Crocker was fashioned to resemble the renowned FLOTUS – Jackie Kennedy. No matter how many years passed, Betty Crocker never aged, she always remained young and ageless – a story a lot of publications took up. In 1996, at the 75th anniversary of the Betty Crocker brand, renowned painter John Stuart gave Betty Crocker an olive skin to be more representative of women of different ethnicities.
The first Betty Crocker grocery product was a soup mix that hit the markets in 1941. The iconic Betty Crocker cake mix hit the shelves in 1947 in America. The Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book was published in 1950 and has since helped countless women cook and bake delicious treats in their kitchens. The book continues to be published, now being called The Betty Crocker Cookbook. Betty now has her own website now – complete with gifts, advice, recipes etc.
How old is Betty Crocker now?
Betty Crocker is now 100 years young. Betty Crocker today continues her legacy of adapting, discovering and sharing knowledge that home cooks and home bakers need. Betty has an active social media presence, reaching thousands of women all over the world there. She maybe a century old, but you can still count on Betty to give you reliable advice, the right recipes, and the answers we are looking for. We continue to find joy in cooking something we didn’t think we could – the way I did with pancakes. Betty Crocker lives on in kitchens all over the world, and who would say that she isn’t even real!