As they say, Gerber is in the business of babies, and they have been since the 1920s. And like so many baby products, the little jars of strained baby food came about because a mother saw a need and knew just the right person to solve her problem. Read on for nine facts about Gerber and that famous little face.
1. THE IDEA BEGAN WHEN DANIEL FRANK GERBER AND HIS WIFE NEEDED TO FEED THEIR BABY DAUGHTER A SPECIAL DIET.
In the early 1900s, the Fremont Canning Company, owned by manufacturer Frank Daniel Gerber, sold cans of beans, peas, and fruit. Gerber’s son—confusingly named Daniel Frank Gerber—went to work for his father’s canning company in 1920. Daniel and his wife, Dorothy, had a young daughter, Sally, who had become sick. Her pediatrician recommended they feed her strained fruits and vegetables for a period, but straining and pureeing peas by hand was a time-consuming, physically demanding process, and Dorothy suggested that if Daniel's company's equipment could puree tomatoes, they could do the same for other foods. Daniel agreed, and worked on a more efficient way to feed his daughter.
2. GERBER'S STRAINED BABY FOOD WAS SO POPULAR, IT TOOK OVER THE BUSINESS.
Daniel and his father, Frank, made test batches of strained baby food and starting selling it via the Fremont Canning Company in 1928. Products included strained peas, carrots, spinach, and prunes. The baby food sold so well that in 1941, the Fremont Canning Company changed its name to Gerber Products Company to focus solely on feeding babies.
3. URBAN LEGENDS SURROUNDED THE IDENTITY OF THE GERBER BABY FOR DECADES.
Who is the Gerber baby? The famous face started appearing on Gerber products in 1928, after an open contest to find a spokesbaby. Before the public found out the identity of the baby on the Gerber logo though, people speculated that the baby grew up to be a celebrity. Although the rumors and urban legends were baseless, people theorized that the Gerber baby was a famous actor—Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, Jane Seymour, or Brooke Shields (who is far too young to have possibly been the Gerber baby) have all been mentioned—or a politician, like Bob Dole or Richard Nixon. Other people guessed that the Gerber baby grew up to be a porn star, but the most common assumption was that the baby was Sally Gerber, whose special diet inspired her parents to make baby food. She was the first food tester, after all!
4. THE BABY WAS ACTUALLY ANN TURNER COOK, THE NEIGHBOR OF A CHILD'S PORTRAIT ARTIST.
In 1928, Dorothy Hope Smith, a commercial artist known for child portraiture, submitted a charcoal sketch of her neighbor’s 5-month-old baby into Gerber’s logo contest. The baby, Ann Turner Cook, later became an English teacher and mystery writer. Cook’s highly recognizable face was on every Gerber product, but Gerber kept her identity secret until 1978 because the company wanted the baby to be an “everybaby,” so parents of both male and female babies would buy Gerber baby food.
5. GERBER DIVERSIFIED BEYOND BABY FOOD.
Besides baby food, Daniel Gerber expanded the business by selling baby accoutrements such as toys and dolls in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1967, Gerber began selling life insurance through the Gerber Life Insurance Company. Today, Gerber sells fruit juice, snacks such as cheese crackers and yogurt, and probiotic colic drops, and the Gerber Life Insurance Company has over two million active insurance policies.
6. DANIEL GERBER APPEARED ON GROUCHO MARX’S TV SHOW.
In 1955, Daniel Gerber appeared on Groucho Marx’s comedy quiz TV show You Bet Your Life in order to make an incredibly dull case for business development in Michigan—and then to nonchalantly mention that he was the president of the Gerber Products Company. Gerber played the straight man to Marx and talked about the benefits of companies opening plants in Michigan. Marx then told Gerber that his daughter ate cans of Gerber baby food, and Marx joked that he too would soon begin eating Gerber food because he was getting older and wouldn't be able to "chew the hard stuff anymore."
7. BABY FOOD FOR UNMARRIED ADULTS WASN’T A HIT.
In 1974, Gerber started selling a promising new product: Gerber Singles. The single-serving jars of pureed baby food were marketed toward young unmarried adults, but Gerber Singles failed immediately. Unfortunately for Gerber, it turned out that unmarried adults didn’t want to eat mushy baby food for dinner while being reminded they were dining alone.
8. GERBER NOW HOSTS AN ANNUAL BABY PHOTO CONTEST.
For almost 90 years, Ann Turner Cook’s face has been synonymous with Gerber. Although Cook’s face is still on Gerber’s products, the company has conducted an annual Gerber Baby Photo Search since 2010. In 2012, the cute 8-month-old winner of Gerber’s contest got to meet Cook in New York, in addition to her $50,000 prize.
9. GERBER HAS A LONG HISTORY OF MAKING CHARITABLE DONATIONS.
In 1952, Gerber founded the Gerber Baby Foods Fund to give money to organizations such as the American Red Cross and Boys and Girls Clubs. In the 1990s, the name of the fund changed to The Gerber Foundation. Since 1952, the foundation has given more than $100 million in grants, scholarships, and donations to various charities and organizations.