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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Betty Hits the Waves!

The air waves that is...On March 4, 1925, the infamous Betty Crocker became the host of the first radio cooking show. Yes, you "heard" me right, the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air was enlisted as a promotional feature by The Washburn-Crosby Company, which debuted the avant-garde radio cooking show with an imaginary hostess by the name of Betty Crocker. Wait! there's more...this information is brought to you by the original owners of Gold Medal Flour, General Mills; via the Mill City Museum. (Ed Note: Washburn-Crosby became General Mills in 1928)

The Washburn-Crosby Company’s (later General Mills) radio station, "WCCO," went on the air March 4, 1925. Betty Crocker, the company’s fictitious spokesperson, became the voice of the "Gold Medal" station. Betty promoted Gold Medal flour and other products while she dished out helpful hints and recipes on her program, the "Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air." Extremely popular, the show was picked up by the NBC network in 1927...

I'm having a bit of a problem digesting this tidbit of information especially since it is coming from a company who we already know, has a tendency to makes things up:) It seems to me, they should have the right date, right? Hey, who am I to argue such an important milestone in company history, although, these things do get discombobulated all the time. So, in all fairness, I must consult Colonel Bob Allen, author of A Guide to Collecting Cookbooks first published in 1990. As I may have mentioned before, I have a great amount of respect for the concise historical information Colonel Allen provides in his handy reference book.

In 1924 Betty Crocker took to the air waves on daytime radio's first food service program. Subsequently, the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air became a net work program. Blance Ingersall became Betty Crocker's voice in 1924 when the company advertised on the radio. In 1925, 13 Betty Crockers were on radio programs in different areas of the United States.

From General Mills:

Blanche Ingersoll provided the voice for Betty Crocker initially. Every Friday morning, Ingersoll would broadcast recipes, baking ideas and household tips. Listeners “enrolled” in the school by requesting recipes. The “homework” was making the recipes and writing a report. Those who completed all recipes and lessons graduated during a broadcast ceremony. One of the first radio shows dedicated to homemakers, the Betty Crocker cooking school was a huge hit, with more than 200 “graduates” in the first class...Through its various incarnations over 27 years on the air, the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air remains one of the longest-running shows in radio history...As the show grew in popularity, expanding into even more markets, so did the fame of Betty Crocker. At the height of her popularity, Betty Crocker was receiving 5,000 letters a 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 had to decline all proposals.
“Betty's” first job at Washburn-Crosby was responding to mail from consumers seeking advice, typically about baking. The sheer volume of mail (all of which, then and now, is personally answered) led executives to realize that they could probably sell a whole lot more flour if they gave Betty a bigger voice. In 1924, Gold Medal launched the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air, broadcasting on radio every Friday morning. Marjorie Husted wrote the scripts and at times provided Betty's radio voice, a role she played for the next 10 years. (source)
The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air" in 1924. This show was hosted for two decades (through 1953) by Marjorie Husted, a renowned home economist and graduate of the University of Minnesota and initiated member of Kappa Alpha Theta...Ina Rowe, Janette Kelley, Ruth Haynes Carpenter, and Blanche Ingersoll were other home economists who leant their voices and image to Betty Crocker over the years...Actress Adelaide Hawley became Betty Crocker for many years starting in the 1940's. She regularly appeared on the Burns and Allen Show," and for a while, even had her own TV show. One interesting bit of trivia Ms. Hawley, playing Betty Crocker, appeared in CBS network's first color commercial in which she baked a "mystery fruit cake." Hawley continued her role as Betty Crocker until 1964. (source)
When Husted started her work at the Home Service Department, the Gold Medal cooking schools were being phased out in favor of an exciting and efficient new selling medium: radio. Washburn-Crosby had acquired its own radio station, WCCO, which became famous for introducing the first singing commercial. (To the tune of "She's a Jazz Baby": "Have you tried Wheaties? / They're whole wheat with all of the bran. / Won't you try Wheaties? / For wheat is the best food of man.") In 1924 the company inaugurated the "Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air," with Blanche Ingersoll of the Home Service Department speaking to American women as Betty Crocker. Those who managed to tune her in--WCCO had a relatively limited range in the Midwest--learned that they could enroll in the "Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air" simply by sending for printed recipes. They were instructed to prepare all the recipes, write reports on how each one came out, and mail them to Betty Crocker. If they completed the entire course, they were invited to attend a graduation ceremony at the WCCO studio. At the end of the first year, 238 women showed up for graduation and received diplomas. The company quickly began training other Betty Crockers to broadcast from different regions of the country, and although efforts were made to impose uniform standards, inevitably the voices varied. Not until 1936 did it finally become possible for women in every city and town to listen to the same Betty Crocker. (excellent article)

Well, it seems, there are indeed a few discrepancies in Col. Allen's book. The date of 1924 and Betty's voice. I have checked my copy of the book over and over and each time I come up with exactly what I have offered. No typos:) Does it matter? Perhaps, perhaps not. "For over a quarter century, more than one million listeners "graduated” from Betty’s radio school." The "Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air" began broadcasting nationally in 1927. Throughout the 1930s and well into the 1940's, with the help of such celebrities as Cary Grant, Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, “America’s First Lady of Food” supported family triumphs, tragedies, and hopes for the future. An invented woman, a voice on the radio they knew as Betty Crocker became their beacon of domestic ideology.

Your Share

In 1945, Betty took to the waves once again; this time concentrating on the home front. Our Nation's Rations was a program produced by General Mills in cooperation with the Office of War Information. The program featured a look at the war time food situation, dramatizations of the malnutrition suffered by our P. O. W.'s, and talked about a balanced diet. In the book Finding Betty Crocker available @ google books for browsing purposes, (page 107) the author Susan Marks explains Betty Crocker's patriotic duty. (you really should take a peek:) With the success of Our Nations Rations came the success of a wartime recipe pamphlet titled Your Share. (click images to open) From the Foreword: (1943)

Hail to the women of America! You have taken up your heritage from the brave women of the past. Just as did the women of other wars, you have taken your positions as soldiers on the Home Front. You have been strenghening your country's defense-as plane watchers-as flyers-as members of the armed forces-as producers, in war plants and homes-and in Red Cross and Civilian Defense activities. The efforts and accomplishments of women today are boundless!
But whatever else you do, you are first and foremost, homemakers, women with the welfare of your families deepest in your hearts. Now you face a new and more difficult problem in management of your homes. You must make a little do where there was an abundance before. In spite of sectional problems and shortages, you must prepare satisfying meals out of your share of what there is. You must heed the government request to increase the use of available foods, and save those that are scarce and, at the same time, safeguard your family's nutrition. Never has there been such an opportunity, and a need, for what American women can contribute.
So to you women behind the men, behind the guns, we offer this book, with its daily helps for wartime meal planning and cooking. And we salute you all!

Another pioneering radio show was sponsored by the Department of Agriculture in 1926. (National Agriculture Day is the 1st day of spring) Aunt Sammy's was broadcast over 50 stations across the nation. I blogged about Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes on Independence Day in 2009:) Just a note: The First Lady of the United States, Michele Obama, celebrated March as National Women's History Month @ Arlington Cemetery.

Today is also National Pound Cake Day! Don't forget Oreo's celebrate their birthday on the 6th! I celebrated the history of the Oreo last year:)

Resources
Betty Crocker Website
Crazy About Betty
The Betty Crocker Creed
A discussion on the Betty Crocker Junior Baking Book
Orange Chiffon Cake (from Betty Crocker Chiffon Cake Recipes & Secrets)
Easy Meatless Lasagna (Betty Crocker’s Recipe)
Arthur Schwartz's Food Talk (Arthur Schwartz's nationally syndicated talk radio program in New York.)
The Doo-Wop Chef
Martha Stewart Radio Blog

7 comments:

  1. Lots of things to think about in this post Louise! Whereas people used to get their food fix from the radio, now we get it from the Food Network. And it's interesting about General Mills and the government being in cahoots back in World War II. I may not be thinking too clearly, but I can't think of an example today where the government endorses any particular brand or company. Excluding the questionable relationship between all food companies and the FDA, of course.

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  2. Hi Kathy,
    I really tried to keep this post to a bare minimum but Betty is so popular and since she has been around for so long, I really wanted to try to get the facts straight.

    I too was surprised by the "partnership" but I'm sure it has occurred before. Heinz comes to mind:) I don't watch the Food Network much when I do, it's usually Alton Brown. Thanks for the link and for dropping by...

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  3. So thats the story of Betty! The govt connection was interesting but understandable in time of war and rations.I guess there are two ways to look at that sort of thing.

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  4. That is so cool! Just another testament of what women can do!

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  5. You are my Betty Crocker, Louise!

    Good news! I received the book today! Oh thank you so much, my wife and I are delighted. It was so wonderful. Thank you for the beautiful card. I will treasure both as long as I live.

    I am starting to learn to cook because of your encouragement. I found that it is very fascinating and gives great rewards afterwards.

    I am sending you a recipe booklet from the Philippines so you can also try (or perhaps feature) some of our foods here.

    I will mail it tomorrow.Thank you!!! Regards to everyone!

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  6. I had no idea that Betty was the star of a radio show - that is fascinating, and such an indicator of how "chefs" would take over the media. Wish I could hear some examples of those early shows.

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  7. Hi Glamah, perhaps these things only happen in the land of make believe

    Or what good advertising can do, duckie...

    Dennis, you are too kind. I can't wait to see your first "cooked" blog post:)

    Oh T.W. I searched and searched for a video clip of her show. I couldn't find it anywhere! I'm actually still working on it but I must admit, it seems the only way to listen to it is to purchase it. I'll let you know if I find it:)

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Through this wide opened gate,
none came to early,
none returned to late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise