10 Facts You Might Not Know About Pillsbury
By Suzanne Raga
Offering everything from cake mix to crescent rolls to pizza crust, Pillsbury has been a household name since the 1950s, though the company is much, much older.
1. IN 1869, FOUNDER CHARLES PILLSBURY MOVED TO MINNEAPOLIS TO START HIS FLOUR BUSINESS.
By Pillsbury [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Six years after graduating from Dartmouth, Charles Pillsbury moved to Minneapolis. Working in his uncle's flour mill, Pillsbury realized that he could make the flour milling process more efficient by using steel rollers rather than buhr stones to mill the grain into flour. In 1872, he convinced his uncle and his father to join his company, which he called Charles A. Pillsbury & Co. Within 10 years, business had boomed, and Pillsbury's mill was the largest in the world. The company was sold and diversified a couple of times, but after Charles Pillsbury died in 1899, leadership and management positions stayed within the family through his son, Charles S. Pillsbury, and grandson Phillip.
2. PILLSBURY’S FAMOUS BAKE-OFF CONTEST STARTED IN 1949.
Theodora Smallfield won $50,000 in the first Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in 1949. Smallfield wrapped a tea towel around the dough to make her “No-Knead Water-Rising Twists.” The first contest was a big deal–Eleanor Roosevelt handed out the awards at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The contest happened every year until 1976, when its frequency changed to once every two years. Fast-forward to the most recent Bake-Off contest in 2014, when Virginia's Beth Royals won $1 million for her recipe for Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters.
3. THE PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY HAS A NAME.
In 1965, the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago came up with the Pillsbury Doughboy character for an advertising campaign for the company's refrigerated dough (the ad agency had previously come up with Pillsbury's catchy jingle). Creative director Rudy Perz named the character Poppin’ Fresh to convey the dough’s freshness.
4. THE DOUGHBOY HAS APPEARED IN HUNDREDS OF COMMERCIALS WORLDWIDE.
With his chubby white body and trademarked "Hoo Hoo!" giggle, Poppin’ Fresh is an immediately recognizable brand mascot who has starred in more than 600 different Pillsbury commercials since 1965. When they first began shooting ads with him, the stop-motion animation required five bodies and 15 different heads—a 30-second television spot required 720 photographs, or 24 pictures per second.
5. PILLSBURY APPEALED TO KIDS AND ADULTS WITH POWDERED DRINK MIXES AND BAKING PRODUCTS.
In 1955, Pillsbury released boxes of brownie mix and frosting mix, which appealed to amateur home cooks who could use the packaged mixes to save time and hassle in the kitchen. In 1964, Pillsbury started selling cans of spreadable (wet) frosting as well as Funny Face Drink Mix, meant to compete with Kool-Aid's powdered drink mixes. Unfortunately, a couple of the names and packaging of the powdered drink mix—with flavors such as Loud-Mouth Lime, Goofy Grape, and Rootin' Tootin' Raspberry—were highly offense, but Pillsbury eventually renamed Chinese Cherry to Choo-Choo Cherry and Injun Orange to Jolly Olly Orange.
6. NOT EVERY PRODUCT WAS A HIT.
In 1966, Pillsbury introduced a powdered drink mix called Moo Juice, which made a milkshake when you added milk to it and shook. Moo Juice came in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate malt, but it reportedly made a watery milkshake that didn’t taste as good as other powdered dessert drinks on the market. By 1970, Pillsbury stopped producing and selling Moo Juice.
7. PILLSBURY SCIENTISTS DEVELOPED THE FIRST SOLID FOOD EATEN IN SPACE.
In the 1960s, Pillsbury’s food scientist Dr. Howard Bauman developed edible cubes for astronauts to eat in space. In 1962, astronaut Scott Carpenter became the first person to eat solid food in space when ate these small cubes of figs, chocolate, dates, and high-protein cereals aboard the Aurora 7. In the 1970s and 1980s, Pillsbury marketed space food sticks for the non-astronaut public. They sold them as a fun snack that provided energy in the form of carbohydrates and protein, and the sticks came in flavors such as chocolate, peanut butter, mint, orange, and caramel.
8. PILLSBURY ONCE OWNED BURGER KING AND HÄAGEN-DAZS.
In 1967, the Pillsbury Company acquired the then-13-year-old Burger King chain for $18 million, and in 1983, it bought premium ice cream brand Häagen-Dazs directly from Reuben Mattus, the company’s founder. But after a series of acquisitions—most recently, General Mills acquired Pillsbury in 2000—Pillsbury no longer exercises direct control as the parent company over either Burger King or Häagen-Dazs.
9. THE PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY HAS HIS OWN DOUGHY FAMILY.
In the early 1970s, Pillsbury introduced a Poppin’ Fresh doll. The doll became so popular that Poppin’ Fresh’s entire family also became dolls. According to his backstory, his family consisted of a wife, Poppie Fresh (also called the Pillsbury Doughgirl), their kids Popper and Bun Bun, his dog Flapjack and cat Biscuit, as well as grandparents Granmommer and Granpopper, and an uncle Rollie. In a 1991 commercial for Pillsbury crescent rolls, Poppin’ Fresh’s unnamed mother appears, but we only see her arms as she serves him the rolls. Collectors still buy and sell Pillsbury dolls today.
10. A FEW FAMOUS ACTORS HAD EARLY ROLES STARRING ALONGSIDE THE DOUGHBOY.
Michael Cera landed his first gig with a speaking part when he created a giant cookie-dough monster in this '90s commercial. Although she didn't have lines, little Kirsten Dunst was all giggles and bouncy curls in her 1980s ad for microwaveable scalloped potatoes. And a pre-Brady Bunch Maureen McCormick sang a little ditty with Poppin' Fresh in a 1960s commercial (see #4), while a young Drew Barrymore was also cheered up by Pillsbury's chocolate chip cookies after getting caught in the rain.