The First-Ever Betty Crocker Product Wasn't What You Would Expect

It goes without saying that Betty Crocker is a legend of home kitchens. Perhaps surprising to some, Betty Crocker was not a real woman, but rather a fictional character who was carefully created to represent and resonate with the everyday consumer, specifically homemakers and mothers who wanted to prepare warm, simple meals made from practical ingredients at an affordable price for their families (via PBS). She has been portrayed as a brunette, middle-aged woman in ads throughout her "life," sporting welcoming red-and-white attire and a modest smile.

Convenience and wholesomeness have always been key selling points of the Betty Crocker brand. Today, the brand is most commonly associated with its packaged cake mixes, which allow folks of nearly any culinary skill level or socioeconomic status to whip up a delicious, practically gourmet indulgence in mere minutes (per Cook's Illustrated). But shortly before cake became part of the picture, the company made an entirely different type of meal.

The original Betty Crocker product was soup mix

Betty Crocker entered American homes in 1921 by way of a print ad for Gold Medal Flour in "The Saturday Evening Post." Washburn-Crosby Co., the Minneapolis-based predecessor of General Mills, ran a contest for consumers, asking them to assemble a jigsaw puzzle from pieces they had to snip out of the two-page spread. Smithsonian Magazine explains that, in addition to completed puzzles, the company also received letters, mostly from women, seeking cooking advice. "Betty Crocker" — or rather, the creative advertising department of Washburn-Crosby — replied to them, using a convivial woman's character.

Two decades later, in 1942, Betty Crocker introduced its first line of grocery products: dried soup mixes, according to the brand's official website. The staple item was a total game changer for many households, as the product took less time to prepare a batch of soup than a from-scratch recipe, which could take hours. Betty's just-add-water cake mixes hit market shelves five years later in 1947.

Although she is but a fictional advertising mascot, Betty Crocker has remained an icon in the minds — and kitchens — of consumers. In fact, "The First Lady of Food," as she was lovingly nicknamed, was ranked the second most popular woman in America by Fortune in 1945, with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt ranking just above her, per PBS.