Monday, August 27, 2012

Elsie the Borden Cow (1948-1955)

Good morning!

What a lot of great finds I made this weekend! Unfortunately, I was way too wiped out to photograph any of them last night, so you're going to have to wait until tomorrow for a recap of the "weekend that was". In the meantime, do you remember Elsie, the Borden Cow? If so, prepare for a trip down memory lane; if not, check out my new bovine role model:

In 1936, Elsie became the "spokescow" for Borden Dairies, appearing in magazines and newspapers as a bright-eyed, anthropomorphic Jersey cow who represented an equal mix of Loretta Young and Betty Crocker (as much as a cartoon cow could, obviously). Need helpful hints? Ask Elsie! A real-life cow was selected in 1940 to represent Borden at the World's Fair in New York...the World's Fair is about as big time as you can get! To this day, Elsie remains one of the most recognizable brand mascots of the twentieth century.

Borden added Elsie's equally anthropomorphic family in 1948, which grew to include husband Elmer (who you might recognize from his own spokescow work as the face of Elmer's Glue [!!!!!!!]), daughter Beulah, and son Beauregard. The Cows live in a terrifically tops house, straight out of midcentury Better Homes and Gardens, and face some of the same daily dilemmas housewives reading the magazines in which these ads appeared in the late forties' and early fifites' themselves would have faced. Each ad begins with an interest-piquing question, posed by Elsie herself while deep in the midst of some household "pickle":

I eventually got over the "weirdness" of cow-humans cavorting around on two legs in  a normal sized, human house (which, honestly, is a little hard to wrap your head around in the first place) and embraced the Cow family wholeheartedly. Especially Beauregard Cow, a scamp of a calf if ever there was one. In the tableau above, Elmer is all in an uproar about his shaving razors being moved to the top shelf of the cabinet in his (well appointed! Look at that shaving mirror and blue tile!) bathroom. Elsie replies that she has moved the razors so that Beauregard will not practice shaving again (cows...shaving...just think about it, as they are pretty much covered in hair anyway...but willful suspension of disbelief, right?).

The following conversation ensues:

Things to think about: 
  1. Why don't we use phrases like "Who in blazes" and "I'll tan that kid's hide" in general conversation anymore? 
  2. Is it really very sensitive to intimate that you're going to tan the hide of a baby cow?
  3. Don't you love how much reading midcentury ads involved? Can you imagine trying to bank on a 21st century consumer getting through paragraphs of exposition and dialogue to learn the true message of your advertisement?
  4. I love Elsie almost as much as Elsie loves Borden Dairy Products, such as instant coffee and cottage cheese. The jingle is doing its trick!
Look at the rest of the Cow house in this next illustration. I WANT TO LIVE IN THIS COW HOUSE.
How about how everyone in this picture is wearing some kind of clothing, with the exception of Elmer? As Beulah stacks pennies to roll up for the bank (do you remember doing this in the pre-CoinStar days? The convenience of dumping a ziplock bag full of change in an automated machine versus all that counting and recounting really appeals to me, and the heck with the convenience fee), Elmer reacts poorly to the very idea that (cow) women are more parsimonious than (cow) men, Elsie calmly shells shell beans, and Beauregard? Well, you look and tell me what Beauregard is up to:

Atta (cow) boy! Atta boy, little Beauregard. As the rest of the family is distracted with money matters, Beauregard checks out what he would look like with a totally green grille, courtesy of the bean shells. Stay gold. See more of the Cows' enviable late forties' kitchen in the next two ads:

Stop the presses! There seems to be a discrepancy here! Sometime, in Beauregard's infancy, they must have switched the paint scheme in the kitchen from this very late thirties/early forties' black and white and cerulean paint scheme to the late forties'/early fifties' garden green. The linoleum in the above picture has a green checkerboard pattern, and below a blue all-over scheme is clearly displayed. Well, owing to my love of the pig-elephant-child-doll in the chair, I will excuse the lack of continuity. That little pig elephant is like "Don't mind me!", as the little cow baby cowers at his cow dad's possible rage. It's not like bulls get that mad or anything. To wit, with regard to that-- why are the two members of his family wearing red? You can bet Elmer is seeing red, haha...oh...I just crack me up. Too bad about the jam, Cow Family. Elmer rages, Elsie laughs it away with some more commercial spiels about different Borden products, and everything ends up ok.

Some tiny little illustrations from the in-text part of the ads...ah, the joy of being a Borden Cow!

Do you remember Elsie and her family from the advertisements for Borden's? I think we had a plastic creamer in my house growing up that had her head as the spout, but it could have been another glamorous cow for all I know. Which one of these little advertisements do you like best? Did you have a favorite brand ambassador animal when you were a kid? Tell, tell!

Here are some links to more on Elsie (know your cow!). Weekend Haul tomorrow! Til then!

Elsie's Story from the Cremora website
A fifties' commercial featuring Elsie and her family
The real Elsie at the 1939-1940 World's Fair
Elsie memorabilia on Ebay


  1. Oh my goodness, this is the best! I had no idea that Elsie had a family, or that her husband is THE Elmer of Elmer's glue! And what a hoot that little Beauregard is, I love that he is lathering up the painting in the cottage cheese/coffee ad!

    My apartment, and the family feed mill, in New York is actually in an old Borden's factory! I've found a number of neat old Borden's items but nothing with Elsie on it- too bad, she's even cuter now that I've read all about her!

  2. i love elsie! whenever i see something with her on it at an antique mall i always have to take a look! even though it is always expensive. i want that pig/elephant/baby thing!

  3. I have several old Elsie pamphlets that I've picked up here and there and I love finding the ads in old magazines. We always always drank Borden's milk when I was a kid because my grandfather had worked for Borden's. The Dutch Chocolate milk was my favorite.



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