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R. T. Davis Exhibit
Chicago Columbian Exposition., 1893.
The self-rising pancake flour was created by a pair of speculators, Chris Russ and Charles Underwood, in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1889. The duo had purchased a bankrupt mill and planned to make it successful by developing a new product that would spur demand for their flour. Despite their lack of culinary expertise, or perhaps because of it, the two settled on developing a foolproof and less labor-intensive pancake batter that would require only the addition of water. They experimented with a variety of recipes in the summer of 1889 before settling on a mixture of wheat flour, corn flour, lime phosphate and salt.
However, Rutt and Underwood could not raise the necessary capital to promote and market the product effectively. They soon ran out of money. After registering the trademark in 1890, they sold their interests to the R. T. Davis Mill and Manufacturing Company, also of St. Joseph, Missouri. Davis was more financially able to promote the product, having large manufacturing facilities, money, and an established reputation with wholesale and retail grocers throughout the Missouri Valley. A 50-year veteran of the milling business, he designed a promotional campaign that has been revered for years by many advertisers, promoters, and marketers.
He transformed the local product into a national one by distributing it through a network of suppliers and by creating a persona for Aunt Jemima, which was inspired by an 1875 minstrel song of the same name. Mr. Davis did a search for a “living trademark” and found Chicagoan Nancy Green (1834-1923) who worked for a judge.
Aunt Jemima got its first big promotion at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Standing at the world’s largest flour barrel, 12 feet high, and 24 feet across, Nancy Green, in character as “Aunt Jemima,” sang songs, told stories, demonstrated the mix, cooking and serving thousands of pancakes to fairgoers. Advertising artist, Arthur Bennett Frost (1851-1928), used Nancy Green’s image to create the famous image of Aunt Jamima.
Green’s world’s fair booth attracted so many people that special policemen had to be assigned to keep the crowds moving. The manufacturer, R.T. Davis Milling Co., sold more than 50,000 orders, and fair officials awarded Green a showmanship medal and certificate. She served as a living trademark for the brand until September 23, 1923. when she died in a Chicago car accident. R.T. Davis changed the name of the company to Aunt Jemima Mills Co. in 1914.
In January, 1926, Chicago based Quaker Oats bought the financially crippled Aunt Jemima Mills Co. for $4 million and for A Century of Progress Exposition, the company’s advertising agency brought Aunt Jemima back to life in the person of Anna Robinson, who promoted the product until her death in 1951.