Gordon Harwell 2
Familiar names still around By Georgeann King Scripps Howard News Service Every day millions of Americans breakfast with Aunt Jemima, lunch with Oscar Mayer, Chef Boyardee and Betty Crocker, snack with Duncan Hines and dine with Uncle Ben. They are names we grew up with. Their portraits are more familiar than those of some family members. But who are these people who share our mealtimes? For companies, such names personalize products even if they don't belong to real people. When they do, they can add an endorsement or lend a reputation for quality. When imagined, they can play upon our subconscious, identifying the product with some pleasant experience. Duncan Hines' name on Procter & Gamble products products brought an identification with quality to the company's new line in the 1950s. A well-known connoisseur connoisseur in his day, Duncan Hines might be frosted if he knew he was associated with canned icings and packaged cake mixes. Hines was a printing salesman from Kentucky whose business took him all over the country. Interested Interested in eating well, he began to keep notes on various restaurants — notes that were coveted by hungry friends in the pre-Mobil guide era of the 1930s. When demand became excessive, Hines started charging $1 for his advice, largely to discourage requests. requests. Instead, demand rose faster than a French souffle. Soon he became his own publisher and devoted himself exclusively to food criticism. In 1950 he formed a partnership with Roy Park, beginning a Hines-Park line of special foods. Seven years later Procter & Gamble bought the rights to his name and food line. Today Duncan Hines' names appears on cake, muffin, brownie and bread mixes and ready-tojserve cookies. Duncan Hines' rival in mixes and baked goods is Betty Crocker. But where Duncan Hines was real, Betty Crocker is not. In 1921, Washburn-Crosky — General Mills' predecessor — launched a picture puzzle contest. The response was so heavy the company decided a spokesperson was necessary. The name "Betty" was chosen because it was popular. Crocker came from William G. Crocker, a retired mill executive. Betty's face was a composite of features of home economists working at the company and her signature drawn from a female employee. Over the years she has had marriage proposals, her own radio show and seven portraits, one by Norman Rockwell. The last one, done in 1986, shows Crocker in a red jacket, blouse with tie and simple hair to show "a professional woman, approachable and friendly, but also competent." But her face rarely appears on packages, unlike that of Chef Boyardee, which can be seen on most of the pasta line made by the parent company, American American Home Foods. Boyardee, whose real name was Hector Boiardi, came to America at age 17 from Piacenza, Italy. By the time he was 25, he had worked at Claridge's, the Plaza and the Ritz-Carlton in New York. He also had catered President Woodrow Wilson's wedding and opened his own restaurant in Cleveland, where he insisted customers enter and exit through the kitchen so they could observe its cleanliness and comment on their dinner. So many voiced approval that Boiardi was soon sending pasta sauce home with them. Later, with his name Americanized to Boyardee, he added cheese and dried pasta and soon decided to market the products. products. Shortly after World War II — which he spent making making field rations for the troops — he sold the company to American Home Food Products, but kept the post of adviser until his death at 87 in 1985. Oscar Mayer's face doesn't appear on his products, but his name means meat to millions of Americans. The company he started in a small Chicago store in 1883 is now the nation's leading manufacturer of branded processed meats. Now owned by General Foods, Oscar Mayer began as a family operation. Young Oscar F. Mayer was 14 when he came to the United States from Bavaria in 1873. He worked as an apprentice meat cutter until joining with his brother Gottfried in a retail market in Chicago's north side. Their first day's sales: $59. Five years later, brother Max borrowed $10,000 and also came into the business. Then Oscar's son, Oscar G., joined in 1909, bringing his Harvard savvy to the business. The family kept the business until 1981. Oscar F died in 1955 at 95 and his grandson retired in 1977 at age 62. Sara Lee is still alive and active in the company her father started. When Charles Lubin, Sara Lee's father, dreamed of expanding his profitable Chicago bakery business, he envisioned selling high quality baked goods to restaurants and supermarkets. The dream came true with his cheesecake, which he named after his 8- year-old daughter. When sales of the cheesecake took off, it was followed by a pecan coffeecake and a pound cake. Lubin also perfected a method of freezing his products products immediately after baking them in their foil containers. Today Sara Lee sells in 60 countries, including including Japan, Australia and the Middle East. Sara Lee herself, now in her early 50s, attends luncheons luncheons and corporate meetings. No one is quite sure about the life of Uncle Ben, but he did exist. A black Texas rice grower, Uncle Ben was known around Houston for his high-quality rice. But he might have been forgotten if it weren't for businessman Gordon Harwell. While dining at a Chicago restaurant with his partner, Harwell discussed how he might bring the high-quality rice he had supplied to armed forces in World War II to the consumer. Uncle Ben had died, but Harwell decided to name his company after the rice grower. Harwell asked black maitre d' Frank Brown to pose for the portrait used on the package, which has been changed little over the years. Not so with Aunt Jemima. Never a real person, her image has undergone several transformations.