Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Whatever Happened to Elsie the Cow?
QUESTION: When I was a kid, I remember seeing Elsie the Cow all over the place. She appeared on all Borden dairy products, billboards, and magazine ads. I even had some Elsie toys. Whatever happened to Elsie the Cow?
ANSWER: Elsie the Cow was the hottest advertising personality in the country in the 1940s and 1950s. Borden Company produced thousands of items bearing her likeness to promote its products.
In 1852, Gail Borden, Jr. received a patent for his condensed milk process, and in 1857 he founded the Gail Borden Jr. and Company. He reorganized his company in 1858 as the New York Condensed Milk Company, which ultimately became the Borden Co.
During the early 1860s, Borden sold his condensed, sugar sweetened milk from push carts on the streets of New York. His product was always pure and safe, and in 1864 when Louis Pasteur showed the world a real live germ, Gail Borden finally learned exactly why his heat process was so successful. The demand for Borden’s condensed milk grew during the Civil War and his business boomed. Though Borden died in 1874 at the age of 72, he lives on as the "father of the modern dairy industry."
During the 1920s and 1930s the commercial dairy business was growing. Borden's bought hundreds of area dairies, out marketing, underselling, and forcing them to sell their milk direct to the large processors at smaller profits. The public sided with the struggling farmers.
In 1936, Borden's, to create a more wholesome public image, placed a new kind of advertising in some medical journals to attract the attention of pediatricians. These ads featured several cartoon cows, one of which was named Elsie. The ads promoted Borden's high standards of quality.
In 1938 a radio copywriter intrigued by the magazine ads wrote a sample Elsie commercial and gave it to a network news commentator whose show Borden sponsored. He read it over the air and his listeners loved it. Fan mail began arriving addressed to Elsie the Borden Cow.
Borden prepared national magazine ads and local dairies put Elsie's picture on their bottle caps.
Borden reacted quickly by choosing the most attractive of the 150 cows---a Jersey from Massachusetts whose name the company changed from You'll Do Lobelia to Elsie.
The public's response to Elsie was unprecedented. A survey done in the late 1940s showed that Elsie was a more known and recognized figure than the president of the United States.
After being a featured attraction at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and 1940, and starring in a movie. Elsie became a highly recognizable personality. Borden began to show her wearing the popular ruffled shoulder apron and in 1941 she stood up and became an American housewife.
All through the 1940s Elsie collectible advertising items and toys were hot. At one point, Borden's had over 100 licensed vendors producing everything from puzzles and games to handkerchiefs and lamps. Everyone loved Elsie.
The 1950s also brought the creation of the "Good Food Line" train which featured Elsie’s entire family, her husband, Elmer, and her two children, Beulah and Baby Beauregard, promoting Borden’s milk, ice cream, and cheese. In 1958 Borden's commissioned Ringling Brothers to build a parade model of the famous train. It had a special car for the live Elsie to ride on and was used in thousands of parades until the early 1990s. After that, Elsie had faded into history. She spent her last days on a farm in Texas.