Who Was The Real Sun-Maid Raisins Girl?

Raisins, plain and simple, are dried grapes that are often eaten as a healthy, fiber-rich snack on their own as well as a tasty, tender addition to cereal, yogurt, cookies, and other indulgences. It is believed that raisins were first consumed several millennia ago in ancient Egypt and Persia, according to Britannica, eventually making their way to other parts of the world. They were symbolic of prosperity in places of worship and were even given out as prizes at sporting events. Today, raisins are sold in grocery stores and markets around the globe.

One of the most recognizable brands of raisins is Sun-Maid, a company founded over a century ago and currently headquartered in Fresno, California. You've likely spotted the bright red Sun-Maid boxes on your local grocery store shelves — or perhaps even in your lunchbox. For the past several decades, a young, smiling woman has appeared on the box, welcoming customers to try the sweet treat at home. Similarly to fast food chain Wendy's namesake, Little Debbie, the Gerber Baby, and Chef Boyardee, the Sun-Maid mascot, whose distinct image graces the product's packaging, was a real person. And her story is as fascinating as raisins are succulent.

Lorraine Collett was the original Sun-Maid girl

The "maid" on each little red box of Sun-Maid raisins was, in fact, a girl who was serendipitously discovered by a company manager back in 1915. One day, Lorraine Collett, a then-22-year-old, was drying her hair outside in the warm California sun with the help of a red bonnet. According to the company, Leroy Payne, the brand's original director, noticed Collett and her ruby-colored hat, approached her, and asked if she would pose for a painting that would be used for the newly established raisin brand's trademark logo. She agreed to model, and the rest is history.

So, who exactly was Lorraine Collett? Sun-Maid explains that, in 1915, the city of San Francisco, which was still being rebuilt after a disastrous earthquake and fire nearly a decade prior, hosted the Panama Pacific International Exposition. Collett and several other young women attended the fair as spokeswomen of the California Associated Raisin Company, which, in 1922, became Sun-Maid Growers of California. Donning blue bonnets and long white dresses, the ladies distributed raisins to hungry, curious fairgoers to spread the word about the delicious indulgence.

Years later, Collett revealed, "It was only after we returned to Fresno that I was seen by [Payne] wearing my mother's red bonnet in my backyard that the bonnet color was changed from blue to red, because red reflected the color of the sun better" (per Sun-Maid). Her iconic red bonnet was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1988 (via YouTube).