A: One of the best-known women of the interwar years—Betty Crocker—never existed.
The Washburn Crosby Company of Minneapolis, one of the six big milling companies that merged into General Mills in 1928, received thousands of requests each year in the late 1910s and early 1920s for answers to baking questions. In 1921, managers decided that it would be more intimate to sign the responses personally; they combined the last name of a retired company executive, William Crocker, with the first name “Betty,” which was thought of as “warm and friendly.” The signature came from a secretary, who won a contest among female employees. (The same signature still appears on Betty Crocker products.)
In 1924, Betty Crocker acquired a voice with the radio debut of the nation’s first cooking show, which featured thirteen different actresses working from radio stations across the country. Later it became a national broadcast, The Betty Crocker School of the Air, which ran for twenty-four years.
Finally, in 1936 Betty Crocker got a face. Artist Neysa McMein brought together all the women in the company’s Home Service Department and “blended their features into an official likeness.” The widely circulated portrait reinforced the popular belief that Betty Crocker was a real woman. One public opinion poll rated her as the second most famous woman in America after Eleanor Roosevelt.
Over the next seventy-five years, her face has changed seven times: she became younger in 1955; she became a “professional” woman in 1980; and in 1996 she became multicultural, acquiring a slightly darker and more “ethnic” look.
P.S. Sara Lee is a real person!
Sources; Charles Panati, Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things (1989); Milton Moskowitz, Robert Levering, and Michael Katz, Everybody’s Business: A Field Guide to the 400 Leading Companies in America (1990); Tulsa World, March 27, 1996.