How Betty Crocker began
In 1921, Gold Medal Flour featured a puzzle advertisement on the back of The Saturday Evening Post inviting consumers to send in the completed puzzle to receive a free Gold Medal Flour pincushion in return.
But Washburn-Crosby, our predecessor company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, didn’t just receive the completed puzzles; they were flooded with thousands of baking questions from consumers.
The Advertising Department decided they needed a female persona to respond to the questions.
And that is how Betty Crocker was born.
The name Crocker came from a recently retired company director and Betty was chosen simply because it sounded friendly.
What happened next is a story of women, who in many ways were ahead of their time. Women who created, embodied and led Betty Crocker into the future.
Ruth Hayes Carpenter
Ruth Hayes Carpenter was hired in 1921 to create the Home Service Department. While she was not a home economist, she had administrative experience and hired a team of 25 young home economists to build out the team.
The first task of these women was to host cooking schools across the U.S. They traveled across the country sharing recipes, cooking tips and promoting the quality of Gold Medal Flour.
Blanche Ingersoll, who was a journalist and home economist, was responsible for developing the first radio scripts for Betty's cooking demonstrations over the airwaves.
In early October 1924, she was the first voice of Betty Crocker. Initially, there were doubts that women would listen to a radio program. But very quickly, letters from across the Midwest poured in for Betty.
Her voice on the air was like the woman next door dropping in for a morning visit to share a new recipe. Women in the company’s Home Service Department personally answered each one, signing Betty Crocker.
Marjorie Child Husted
During the same year that the radio program was being developed, Marjorie Child Husted joined the company. Husted had degrees in home economics and German from the University of Minnesota and directed the northern division of the American Red Cross during World War I.
Her first assignment with Washburn-Crosby was hosting cooking schools in Kansas. After a successful year, she was ready to return to Minneapolis and became the head of the Home Service Department.
To better serve consumers, the company needed to know how homemakers were using recipes, and Husted had an idea. In her family’s small car, she visited a variety of homes around Minneapolis, making observations that helped inform her recipe tips, such as not tapping or packing a cup when measuring flour.
From 1926 on, Husted wrote the scripts for Betty Crocker’s radio shows, which were later shared with radio stations across the country. She was also the voice of Betty Crocker until 1936.
During the Great Depression in the U.S., she helped develop recipes which were nutritious and cost-effective when many were going through hardship.
During World War II, her efforts were focused on helping homemakers effectively use their rations and understand how important their role was.
Janette Kelley was one of the original home economists hired in 1921. She was responsible for setting up the first model kitchen, preparing the first bread-baking book, and making the first chocolate cake that was pictured in Washburn-Crosby ads.
Kelley received her home economics degree from Montana State University. After leaving the company to work on the east coast, she rejoined General Mills in 1944 and became head of the company’s Home Service Department in 1947.
To help the department grow, she made a bold decision to segment the department out into a variety of divisions.
Under her leadership, many innovations, recipes, and new products were introduced, including the development of the one-bowl cake method, and encouraging companies to make standardized pan sizes to prevent baking failures. Also notable was the cake discovery of the century - Chiffon Cake!
Betty Crocker Today
100 years later, Betty Crocker continues to be a beloved household name, inspiring diverse bakers and culinary enthusiasts across the world.
And it’s thanks to the many women, past and present, for her continued success.