Betty Crocker Isn’t a Real Person from 20 Things You Didn't Know About Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines (slideshow)

20 Things You Didn't Know About Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines (slideshow)

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Betty Crocker Isn’t a Real Person

Sadly, the story of Betty Crocker is not the tale of a sweet, matronly woman whose cakes and pies were so good that they needed to be introduced to the masses. The reality is slightly less compelling. In 1921, the Washburn Crosby Company, a flour-milling outfit, received thousands of responses to a promotion that encouraged consumers to write in and win a pincushion in the shape of their Gold Medal flour bag. Along with the responses were dozens upon dozens of questions about baking. The company created the persona of Betty Crocker to answer the questions, using the surname of William Crocker, a director of the firm who had recently retired. 

Kentucky Library and Museum Archives

Duncan Hines Was a Real Person

...But he wasn’t always into baking. In fact, Duncan Hines got his start as a traveling salesman for a print company. The wide range of cuisines he sampled during his constant trips sparked his interest in food. 

Betty Crocker Begins to Grow

As the number of baking questions for Betty Crocker grew, Gold Medal expanded their educational efforts by sponsoring local cooking schools and adding “home economists” to their staff. This was known as the Home Service Department for the mill, and eventually became the Betty Crocker Kitchens.

Kentucky Library and Museum Archives

Duncan Hines Kept a Food Journal

The traveling salesman’s exposure to food across the country inspired him to keep a journal about his dietary adventures. He encountered many mom and pop shops that served delicious roadside fare, but also quite a few that were terrible. He and his wife began sending recommendations on where to eat as Christmas gifts to their friends.

Betty Crocker Did Recipe Radio

In 1924, Betty found her voice on American radio’s first cooking show, The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air. Betty (played by 13 different actresses, scattered across the country in radio studios)  graded her “students” by evaluating detailed reports that listeners sent in. Roughly 238 listeners were considered graduates in the first year the show aired. In 1935, Betty helped the war effort by renaming the segment Our Nation’s Rations and giving advice on how to make the most of household rations. 

Bowling Green Area CVB

Duncan Hines and His Wife Published a Restaurant Guide

Duncan Hines and his wife Florence took it upon themselves to write Adventures in Good Eating: A Duncan Hines Book; Good Eating Places Along the Highways of America, published in 1935, which was full of restaurant listings of eating places all over the country. Hines went on to publish a hotel guide of similar scope and wrote a newspaper column based around recipes from restaurants he liked.

Betty Crocker’s Cookbook Career Continues

By the 1950s, Betty Crocker was famous. When the company released a cookbook under her name, it was an instant bestseller. Since then, over 250 cookbooks have been “written” by Betty Crocker.

Kentucky Library and Museum Archives

Duncan Hines’s Seal of Approval Was Coveted

Duncan Hines became a trusted name following the publication of his book. Only after an establishment’s kitchen passed his inspection would the restaurant receive a notice that they were “Recommended by Duncan Hines”: a coveted seal of approval.

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Betty Crocker’s Cake Mix Wasn't the First

Duncan Hines became a trusted name following the publication of his book. Only after an establishment’s kitchen passed his inspection would the restaurant receive a notice that they were “Recommended by Duncan Hines”: a coveted seal of approval.

Kentucky Library and Museum Archives

Duncan Hines Had a Favorite Cocktail, and It Was a Little Weird

A 1946 profile on Hines by Life magazine noted that the “Mrs. Hines” cocktail was his favorite drink. This unusual tipple was comprised of a “watermelon pickle, a whole egg, cream, gin, grenadine, orange-blossom honey, and lime juice.”

Betty Crocker’s First Product Wasn't for Baking

Surprisingly enough, baked goods weren’t even the first thing marketed under the Betty Crocker name. In 1941, Betty put out a packaged soup mix. The cake mixes did not hit stores until 1945. 

Kentucky Library and Museum Archives

Duncan Hines Took a Conservationist Stance

As a lover of food, Hines couldn’t stand the thought of wasting it. In a 2010 LaCrosse Tribune article, this tidbit surfaced in the story of a visit Hines made to a favorited LaCrosse, Wisconsin, restaurant. After noticing the amount of butter and bread wasted, he was quoted as saying that “such waste showed a lack of both breeding and patriotism.”

Betty Crocker's Popularity Rose High

In 1945, Betty was named the second most popular woman in America. She was preceded only by the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt; hence Betty’s nickname, “The First Lady of Food.”

Kentucky Library and Museum Archives

Duncan Hines's First Product Wasn't for Baking, Either

In the early 1950s, Hines partnered with Roy Park to create Hines-Park Food Inc. Their first product, however, was not a boxed cake mix: it was ice cream that contained a larger helping of butterfat than that of its competitors, making it far more delicious!

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Betty Crocker’s Look Has Evolved

Betty was more than a modern baker; she was a modern woman. In 1955, six artists submitted portraits encapsulating what they thought Betty should look like. While the well-known artist Norman Rockwell turned in a submission, Hilda Taylor’s soft and approachable portrait was ultimately the first one chosen, but Betty has had many makeovers throughout the years to bring her up to date.

Keith Homan/Shutterstock

Duncan Hines Finally Got Baking

While their ice cream product debut was successful, Duncan Hines-brand cakes didn’t make it to the market until 1951. They were shortly followed by everything from pancake mixes to muffin mixes.

Betty Crocker is LGBT-Friendly

There are no haters in the Betty Crocker Kitchens! When gay marriage was legalized in August 2013, Betty Crocker donated wedding presents and cakes to the first three couples married in Minnesota, where the company’s kitchens are headquartered.

Kentucky Library and Museum Archives

Duncan Hines Got Highway Recognition

In 1959, Hines passed away from lung cancer. In his hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky there is a stretch of highway named after him, U.S. Route 31 W, north of the city.

Ken Wolter/Shutterstock

Betty Crocker is Still Working

Believe it or not, there is always a “Betty Crocker” on duty at General Mills. Employees work under her name to continue answering questions about General Mills’ Gold Medal Flour product. 

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Duncan Hines Left Quite a Legacy

Today, there are over 80 sweet boxed products produced under the Duncan Hines name, ranging fromfrostings to read-to-bake brownies.

20 Things You Didn't Know About Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines

How many times have you ripped open a box of your favorite brand of cake mix, be it Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, without considering what it took to get those handy ingredients all in one place? These two trusted household baking brands have been seamlessly appearing in cupboards and pantries for decades, but how did they get there?

Take a journey with us as we explore the histories of two iconic companies that are equally essential to the mainstream American culinary story. You’ll appreciate Mom’s boxed birthday cakes more than you ever imagined! 

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20 Things You Didn't Know About Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines (slideshow)