Among the ruins of the old mill district in downtown Minneapolis are the crumbling reminders of a once-booming flour industry that put Minnesota on the map. Lately, a resurgent energy has seized the former milling district. As Minneapolis searches for its roots, plans are underway for extensive renovations. Current plans include the development of Mill Ruins Park, with connecting trails and upscale private housing along the riverbank. Also, the Minnesota Historical Society plans an impressive 50,000 square-foot milling museum inside the fire-damaged Washburn “A” Mill, overlooking St. Anthony Falls. The mill once belonged to the Washburn Crosby Company, forerunner to General Mills Incorporated and the original home of Gold Medal Flour, WCCO, Wheaties, and national phenomenon Betty Crocker.
General Mills’ trademark homemaker, Betty Crocker, made her way into homes across the nation, becoming a permanent fixture in America’s collective kitchen. Despite her humble beginnings on the shores of the Mississippi River, Betty rose to national fame. The fictitious Betty Crocker and her supporting staff influenced the way America shopped, cooked, ate, and served meals. Through her cooking schools, radio shows, print advertisements, cookbooks, television programs, and commercials, she nurtured and shaped the American homemaker. Betty Crocker spoke to women in a tone that was encouraging and inspirational. Her message always remained the same to each and every homemaker: “Yes, you can do it, and I can help you.” Betty and her staff were innovative, clever, practical, and reassuring. Her longevity is testimony and tribute to her impact on society.
Behind the success of Betty is one of the most remarkable and innovative advertising campaigns in American history. In the modern era of the 1920s, characterized by uncertainty, Betty played the role of surrogate mother and grandmother to generations of homemakers. Most advertisers skillfully manipulated female customers by persuading them to buy things they did not need. In the early 20th century, advertisers played upon social taboos, insecurities, and reinforced stereotypical gender roles to sell products. While Betty’s ad-makers undoubtedly also contributed to the stereotypical image of woman as homemaker, they also transcended common advertising practices by using Betty as a service that was valued by homemakers. The strategic advertising of Betty Crocker set her campaign apart from other ad campaigns and catapulted her to icon status.
Women and the modern era
When Betty Crocker was introduced in 1921, America was embarking on a dramatic new era of consumerism. World War I was over and new technological developments dominated national advertisements. Magazines that had been published in black-and-white, such as The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies ’ Home Journal, were printed now in vibrant color. Visually stunning ads sprang from the pages of magazines, proclaiming that the new modern age had arrived! Luxury items such as automobiles, golf clubs, radios, kitchen appliances, color- coordinated bath towels and an array of personal toiletries became immensely popular and affordable to middle-class consumers. This wave of new technology swept through urban America and with it a renewal of materialism reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution.