Planes, trains, cars, and submarines ... all good inventions to be sure, but not all inventions were so earth-shattering. Aunt Jemima pancake mix, for instance, is one such example. Introduced in St. Joseph, Missouri, on November 1, 1889, it was the first "ready-mix" of any kind on the market.
The men behind this invention were Chris L. Rutt, editor of the St. Joseph Gazette, and his friend Charles G. Underwood who, in 1888, purchased a flour mill. The following year, the Pearl Milling Company faced a glutted flour market and the entrepreneurs beginning selling their excess flour as a ready-made pancake mix. The formula in 1889 was:
100 lbs hard winter wheat
100 lbs corn flour
7-1/2 lbs B.W.T. phosphates from Provident Chemical, St. Louis
2-1/4 lbs bicarbonate soda
3 lbs salt
The name Aunt Jemima was inspired by Billy Kersands' song "Old Aunt Jemima." Rutt supposedly saw a minstrel show featuring the song done by blackface performers. Rutt used the image of the actor playing Aunt Jemima, wearing an apron and kerchief, to market the Pearl Milling Company pancake mix. Unable to make a go of the business, they sold the company to the R. T. Davis Millling Company in 1890. That same year, a former slave named Nancy Green, was hired to be the company's spokesperson. Born in Montgomery County, Kentucky, Green played the role of Jemima from 1890 until her death on August 30, 1923.
In 1893, "Jemima" appeared in a pancake-cooking display next to the "world's largest flour barrel" at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Marketing continued around the stereotypical "mammy" archetype which included the slogan, "I's in Town, Honey." The image wasn't always well-received, as some found the stereotype offensive.
The Davis Milling Company was changed to Aunt Jemima Mills in 1913, and Quaker Oats bought the brand in 1926.
After a ten-year lapse, Anna Robinson became the next Jemima in 1933 at the Chicago World Fair.
Anna Short Harrington was next and began her career as Aunt Jemima in 1935. Needing to support her five children, she moved to Syracuse, New York, where she cooked for a living. She was discovered by Quaker Oats while cooking at a fair. Harrington played the role of Jemima for 14 years and made enough money to buy a large house and rent rooms.
The Aunt Jemima trademark was first registered in 1937.
The next and last Aunt Jemima was Ethel Ernestine Harper who played the part during the 1950s. The image was changed to a composite during the 1960s.
Other Aunt Jemima products have been added over the years and continue to be sold in the U.S.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.firstname.lastname@example.org.