Does it seem like the Gerber Baby has always been around? That’s because she has — or at least, she’s been around for as long as Gerber Baby Food has existed. In all the years Gerber has spent feeding babies, the cheerfully, chubby-cheeked little youngster on the foods’ labels hasn’t changed one bit. The owner of the face, however, has, and believe you me, the fact that the Gerber Baby is now an adorable little old lady is one of my favorite things in the history of the universe. So, in honor of #TBT: Ladies and gents, meet Ann Turner Cook, AKA the Gerber Baby all grown up!
CBS Sunday Morning featured Cook in a segment they ran on Sunday, May 25, and seriously, you guys. It’s the greatest thing ever. A widow with four children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, she’s lived a long and full life; after studying education and journalism, she earned a master’s degree in English Education and spent many years teaching in a number of Florida’s elementary, junior high, and high schools. Now retired, she’s also the author of the Brandy O’Bannon mystery series, with titles including Trace Their Shadow and Shadow Over Cedar Key.
Gerber first came onto the scene in 1927 thanks to Daniel Frank Gerber, owner of the Fremont Canning Company, and his wife Dorothy. At the suggestion of a pediatrician, Dorothy started making hand-strained baby food for their daughter Sally, who was seven months old at the time. Daniel saw it as a business opportunity; after all, he could save his wife a considerable amount of pain and effort by straining baby food at his canning plant, rather than in the kitchen. By 1928, he had developed five products for the market: Beef vegetable soup, strained peas, prunes, carrots, and spinach. The products began nationwide distribution about six months later, and the rest… well, you know how it goes.
Naturally, an up-and-coming company like Gerber needed a mascot, so during the summer of 1928, the Fremont Canning Company held a contest to find what would become the Gerber Baby. Scads and scads of drawings and paintings were submitted, including a simple charcoal sketch from artist Dorothy Hope Smith. Smith told the judges that if her sketch won the contest, she would give it a professional polish before they stuck it on the Gerber labels. She won — but the judges told her that they loved it just the way it was, “unfinished” look at and all.
Smith’s neighbor was cartoonist Leslie Turner, who would later go on to draw the comic strip Captain Easy after the departure of its creator, Roy Crane. Turner and his wife, Bethel (née Burson), had had their first child, a little girl named Ann, a few months prior; accordingly, it was five-month-old Ann whom Smith used as her model. And that, my friends, is how Ann Turner Cook became the face of Gerber Baby Food, a position which her cherubic little face has held ever since.
According to Florida’s Bay 9 News, Cook is currently writing a memoir; meanwhile, the original sketch still hangs in a place of honor at the Gerber Headquarters in Fremont, Michigan. Awwww!
Image: CBS Sunday Morning/YouTube