Dec 18, 2009

Aunt Jemima

Chris L. Rutt of St. Joseph, Missouri and his friend Charles G. Underwood bought a flour mill in 1888. Rutt and Underwood's Pearl Milling Company faced a glutted flour market, so they sold their excess flour as a ready-made pancake mix in brown paper sacks without a trade name. In 1889, Rutt attended a vaudeville show where he heard a catchy tune called "Aunt Jemima" sung by a blackface performer who was wearing an apron and bandanna headband. He decided to call their pancake flour "Aunt Jemima."

In 1890,  R.T. Davis purchased the struggling company. He then brought the Aunt Jemima character to life when he hired Nancy Green as his spokeswoman. The image of Aunt Jemima was so popular that the company was renamed the Aunt Jemima Mills Company.

On November 17, 1834, Nancy Green was born. She was a Black storyteller and one of the first black corporate models in the United States. The world knew her as "Aunt Jemima." The Aunt Jemima character was prominent in minstrel shows in the late 19th century, and was later adopted by commercial interests to represent the Aunt Jemima brand.

In 1893, the Davis Milling Company aggressively began an all-out promotion of "Aunt Jemima" at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Green, as "Aunt Jemima," demonstrated the pancake mix and served thousands of pancakes. Green was a hit, friendly, a good storyteller, and a good cook. Her warm and appealing personality made her the ideal "Aunt Jemima," a living trademark. Her exhibition booth drew so many people that special policemen were assigned to keep the crowds moving. The company received over 50,000 orders, and Fair officials awarded Nancy Green a medal and certificate for her showmanship.

She was proclaimed "Pancake Queen." She was signed to a lifetime contract and traveled on promotional tours all over the country. Flour sales were up all year and pancakes were no longer considered exclusively for breakfast. Nancy Green maintained this job until a car crash in Chicago killed her on September 23, 1923.

In 1925, Quaker Oats purchased the Aunt Jemima Mills Company. Anna (Robinson) Harrington was discovered by the Quaker Oats Company and she played the part 14 years.

During the 14 years Mrs. Harrington worked as Aunt Jemima, she made enough money to provide for her children and to buy a 22-room house with a bungalow behind it. She rented rooms to boarders.

The Aunt Jemima image has been modified several times over the years. In her most recent 1989 make-over, as she reached her 100th anniversary, the 1968 image was updated, with her kerchief removed to reveal a natural hairdo and pearl earrings. This new look remains with the products to this day.