1. Eldridge, Alison L. PhD, RD
  2. Goodsell, Suzanne C.

Article Content

She is recognized by millions from the cookbooks that grace our kitchens and the cake mixes that have helped us celebrate our lives. To many, Betty Crocker seems as familiar as a friend. We were raised on her recipes and enjoy the convenience of her Helpers, mixes, and frostings even today. Although she never was a real person, this American icon was "born" in 1921 and since then has become synonymous with helpfulness, trustworthiness, and quality in the kitchen.


Betty is Born

The idea for Betty Crocker began with a Gold Medal flour promotion published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1921. Washburn Crosby Company, the forerunner of General Mills, offered consumers a flour sack pin cushion for correctly completing a jigsaw puzzle depicting a milling scene. Surprisingly, 30,000 finished puzzles were returned, along with hundreds of letters asking questions about baking.

Figure. 1936... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. 1936
Figure. 1955... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. 1955

A savvy in-house advertising director leaped at the opportunity, convincing company leaders to invent a friendly woman to personally reply to each customer inquiry. The name "Betty" was chosen because it sounded friendly and wholesome. "Crocker" was added in honor of a recently retired director, William G. Crocker. To develop the distinctive Betty Crocker signature, an informal contest was held among female employees. The winning entry remains the basis of today's Betty Crocker signature.


Betty Crocker's name was first used in print advertisements and on letters offering cooking and baking advice and then for company-sponsored regional cooking schools. Her reputation skyrocketed, however, with the debut of her national radio series "Gold Medal Flour Home Service Talks" in 1925. The broadcast, consisting of an audio cooking school and talks about food preparation, model menus, and party suggestions, was a recipe for success, reaching millions of radio listeners by 1930. Variations of the "Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air" were broadcast for more than 27 years, making it one of the longest running shows in radio history.

Figure. 1965... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. 1965

Into the Kitchen

Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, the Washburn Crosby Company joined with several other mills from around the country to create General Mills in 1928. A cadre of 21 home economists was hired in the General Mills Kitchens to develop recipes for Betty's radio program. In 1946, the name of the test facilities was formally changed to the Betty Crocker Kitchens. Today, a state-of-the-art facility houses 19 fully equipped kitchens where home economists create recipes for a whole new generation of cooks.

Figure. 1969... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. 1969
Figure. 1972... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. 1972

The Face of Betty Crocker

With radio programs escalating Betty Crocker's popularity, General Mills leaders decided she needed a face. A prominent New York artist, Neysa McMein, was commissioned to create Betty Crocker's first official portrait, painted in 1936. The portrait has been updated 7 times since, but in each one, Betty wears her signature red and white. Although her hairstyles and clothes have evolved to reflect the fashion trends of American women, her age and demeanor have also changed to reflect the times. For the most recent portrait, pictures of 75 winners of a nationwide "Spirit of Betty Crocker" contest were digitally blended with an earlier portrait to create her newest look.

Figure. 1980... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. 1980
Figure. 1986... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. 1986

Supporting the War Effort

Betty Crocker has always had her flour-dusted fingers on the pulse of American culture, and during World War II, her support was enlisted to help her country. The Office of War Information leveraged Betty's popularity for a series of home defense radio broadcasts on topics such as planting victory gardens, managing ration points, and sending messages to soldiers. The government also used Betty Crocker's name to distribute nearly 7,000 copies of a booklet called Your Share, to familiarize Americans with wartime protocol.


As Betty's radio popularity grew, so did the volume of mail. At her peak in the 1940s, she received as many as 5,000 letters per day. Most letters requested cooking advice or recipes, but Betty Crocker also received more unusual requests, including marriage proposals. As Betty Crocker was married to her work, she respectfully declined. In 1945, Fortune magazine named Betty Crocker-not quite 25 years old-one of the most popular women in America, second only to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. From then on, Betty Crocker was heralded as America's First Lady of Food. Since then, she has been the topic of numerous articles, documentaries, and recently, a book.1


Recipes for Success

The first cookbook using the Betty Crocker name, released in 1933, was a collection of favorites from famous chefs worldwide. In 1942, the first book with Betty's own recipes was published-Betty Crocker's Cook Book of All Purpose Baking.


In the 1950s, the convergence of new appliances with convenience foods created a need for new recipes as American families flocked to their new suburban kitchens. Responding to the call, Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book, also known as Big Red, was released in 1950.2 Millions of copies of the familiar red and white cookbook have been sold over the years, making it one of the world's all-time best-selling books. Now in its 10th edition, the cookbook was last released in 2005.3


In addition to Big Red, dozens of specialty cookbooks are now on the market, focusing on ethnic cuisines, such as Indian, Italian, and Chinese, as well as specific health topics, such as heart health, weight management, diabetes, and cancer. Staying current with consumers, the company published its first bilingual English-Spanish cookbook-Cocina Betty Crocker-in 2005.4

Figure. 1996... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. 1996

An American Icon

Today, Betty Crocker is more than 85 years old and, through the years, has become a trusted name in American kitchens. She supported homemakers with her radio programs in the first half of the last century and continues to reach new audiences today with her cookbooks on ethnic cuisine, health topics, and her new bilingual cookbook. Although she was first depicted a stern kitchen matron, her image has evolved into a younger, approachable "everywoman," savvy at business and competent in running her household yet always representing a recognized name and symbolic face of American cooking.



Historical information provided by the General Mills Archives. Additional information can be found at




1. Marks S. Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food. New York: Simon & Shuster; 2005. [Context Link]


2. Betty Crocker Editors. Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook. 1950. Facsimile ed. Minneapolis: Hungry Minds, Inc, and General Mills; 1998. [Context Link]


3. Betty Crocker Editors. Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today. 10th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2005. [Context Link]


4. Betty Crocker Editors. Cocina Betty Crocker: Recetas Americanas Favoritas en Espanol e Ingles [Favorite American Recipes in Spanish and English]. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2005. [Context Link]

Stigmatizing Overweight People Can Discourage Dieting


A study of overweight people tested the claim that weight bias motivates people to lose weight and found that the opposite can be the case-individuals cope with weight stigmatization through a variety of strategies, including eating more food and giving up on dieting. In a survey of more than 2,000 members of a weight loss support program conducted by researchers at Yale, 93% reported "heading off negative remarks" as a coping strategy to deal with weight stigma; 91% used positive self-talk; 89% sought social support; and 86% used faith, prayer, and religion, the same percentage that used self-love and self-acceptance.


Eating more food in response to discriminatory treatment was reported by 79% of the participants, and refusing to diet was reported by 75%. A smaller number, 63%, said that they had used dieting to cope with stigma. Participants reported many forms of weight bias. The most common was other people making negative assumptions about them because of their weight (68%), closely followed by receiving nasty comments from children (63%). The sources of the stigmatization were surprising. Family members were the most frequent perpetrators at 72%, and physicians closely following at 69%. In a smaller men-only group, classmates were the most common source of weight discrimination, with 68% of men saying they had been stigmatized by classmates more than once.


Source: Obesity