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Chicago Worlds Fair product Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix

Updated on July 6, 2011

1893 CHICAGO WORLD'S FAIR LAGOON

The Chicago Worlds Fair was a signal to the United States and the world that the United States was no longer a upstart colony. The fair showcased American discoveries and culture.

The World Columbian Exposition , to give the fair its proper name, was an all electric fair, with modern plumbing, architecture and transportation. The fair had the first ferris wheel, moving sidewalk and other inventions. It also showcased many American consumer products, such as Cracker Jack ,Heinz 57 products, Baking Powder ,Quaker Oats and Saccharin. One of the most popular products was one of the first convenience foods; Aunt Jemima Pancake mix.

Pancakes have long been a diet staple. Once leavening, which caused bread and batter to rise, was developed, pancakes soon followed. They were relatively easy to make and could be fried over an open fire. Pancakes were popular all over Europe for hundreds of years before the founding of the American Colonies. The mix of milk, egg, flour and leavening was made from scratch each morning for breakfast. But this was too much work for some.

Chris Rutt, who was a reporter in St. Joseph, Missouri, loved pancakes, but he didn’t like to make them from scratch every day. So in 1889, he developed a pre-mixed pancake mix. He made it from flour, salt, baking soda and phosphate of lime and sold it in brown paper sacks. He succeeded in getting it on grocer’s shelves but it didn’t sell why. Part of the problem was people could easily make the product at home, why buy it?


But the lack of need hasn’t stopped American manufacturers before, Rutt decided the pancake mix just needed to be advertised properly.

Enter Baker and Farrell, famous blackface minstrel comedians. Rutt attended a show where the duo performed a number to the tune “Aunt Jemima.” Baker performed in blackface with a white apron and a red bandanna, the stereotypical uniform of a Southern female cook.

1950'S TV COMMERCIAL

Rutt liked the name and the outfit so he adopted both for his pancake mix. This worked and the product started to sell locally. Rutt soon sold his company to the Davis Milling Company and they decided to promote the pancake mix at the Chicago World’s Fair.

The Milling Company hired Nancy Green, an African-American Chicago cook. She cooked pancakes for fairgoers for months. She was very popular and made over a million pancakes for fairgoers. Nancy Green was the image of Aunt Jemima until her death in 1923, she toured around the country making pancakes until the end.

Of course, the campaign was racist; a black woman living to serve white people too lazy to mix up their own pancake mix. But Aunt Jemima is still an advertising icon today.

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