Throughout the 19th century, the word mascot typically referred to inanimate objects that would be commonly seen, such as a lock of hair or the figurehead of a sailing ship. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the term was more broadly adapted to reference any good luck animals, objects, and human caricatures that have become more widely used today. Journey with us back to 1877 and take a trip through the history of some of the most popular mascot logos and how they shaped history.
The Quaker Man - Quaker Oats
At a whopping 146 years old, the Quaker Oats mascot is the oldest branded mascot on our list. Henry Seymour, co-founder of the company, claimed that he randomly decided on the name after reading about Quakers in an encyclopedia and thought their values lined up with the company’s. Quaker Oats claims that their logo is not meant to resemble an actual person. However, the company identified the Quaker Man as William Penn (Quaker & founder of the Province of Pennsylvania) in advertising dating back to 1909.
“Sun-Maid Girl” - Sun Maid Raisins
In 1915, Lorraine Collett worked as a seeder and packer for a fruit packing company in Fresno, earning $15/week. That May, an executive for the company spotted Collett and hired her to promote the California Associated Raisin Co. The company later commissioned a watercolor portrait of Collett to be used as the “Sun-Maid” corporate mascot. Her likeness was then trademarked, and she began appearing on packing in 1916. This promotion was so successful that in 1920, the company adopted the “Sun-Maid Raisin Growers’ Association” as its new name. By the end of the decade, America’s raisin consumption grew by 3x. You can find the actual red bonnet she wore in the Smithsonian Institution after Sun-Maid donated it in 1987 for their 75th anniversary.
Mr. Peanut - Planters Peanuts
Mr. Peanut walked onto the scene in 1916 after schoolboy Antonio Gentile drew an anthropomorphic legume for a design contest the company was hosting. After he had won the contest, commercial artist Andrew Wallach added the monocle, top hat, and cane that we all see him with today. Antonio only received $5 originally for the contest but was later contacted by the founder, Amedeo Obici, who volunteered to pay the schoolboy’s way through medical school. By the mid-1930s, Mr. Peanut represented the entire peanut industry, appearing on almost every Planters package and advertisement. From there on out, he appeared in many TV commercials and cartoons. Their most recent popular stunt involved a $5 Million Super Bowl commercial “killing” the character and introducing Baby Nut, who eventually grew into Peanut Jr. and is now back to Mr. Peanut.
Fun fact: Mr. Peanut’s full name is Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.
The Jolly Green Giant - Green Giant Company
Minnesota Valley Canning Company was first introduced in 1928 after the company discovered a new variety of pea and began harvesting and selling it. Though when the giant was first born, he was starkly different from how he is known today, wearing a bearskin and adorning a scowl on his face. The concept was inspired by a Brothers Grimm fairy tale named Der Bärenhäuter - Bearskin. We owe the conception of the Jolly Green Giant to the copywriting behemoth himself, Leo Burnett, in 1935. He traded the bearskin for a suit made of leaves, gave the giant a smile, and added Jolly to his name. By 1950, the company was renamed the Green Giant Company. The character first appeared in commercials beginning in 1954, voiced by Elmer Dresslar Jr., but his signature “Ho, ho, ho” became his tagline in 1961. Blue Earth, Minnesota, has a 55-foot, literal, and figurative Giant statue of the mascot that attracts over 10,000 guests a year. They also introduced an apprentice named Little Green Sprout, who is meant to represent the consumer.
Snap, Crackle, and Pop - Kellog’s Rice Krispies Cereal
The same year as a new giant came on the scene, a small but mighty brotherly trio, Snap, Crackle, and Pop, entered. Rice Krispies was originally just advertised for its unique crackling sound that would happen when combined with milk. Soon after the commercials aired, Artist Vernon Grant heard the “Snap, Crackle, Pop” jingle on the radio and immediately sketched three different characters for each sound. He submitted his work to Kellogg’s, who then displayed Snap on the product’s packaging in 1933, later joined by his brothers. The three brothers wear distinct clothing, with Snap usually portrayed wearing a chef’s toque, Crackle usually shown wearing a red or striped sleeping cap, and Pop wearing a drum major’s shako, but sometimes also a chef’s toque or an exciting combination of both. Over the years, they have gotten three major makeovers (the first of which introduced their current younger features and colors), with their latest redesign happening in 2008, celebrating their 80th anniversary and moving toward the digital age. Today, you can enjoy their new hit single, Snap, Crackle, and Pop on Spotify.
Elsie the Cow - Borden Dairy
As one of the most famous animal mascots on this list, Elsie the Cow was actually part of a family of cartoon cows in her origins. The other three were named Mrs. Blossom, Bessie, and Clara in a 1936 advertisement for the company in a medical journal. By 1939, she was featured in her own campaigns, garnering a lot of popularity for the brand. That same year, Borden Dairy demonstrated their rotary milking parlor for the first time at the New York World’s Fair, where the first living Elsie was recognized. As an energetic Jersey heifer, the cow was named “You’ll Do, Lobelia'' and was dressed in an embroidered green blanket for the rest of the season. She then went on to make numerous public appearances until her passing in 1941, where she was buried at her home on Walker-Gordon Farm in Plainsboro, New Jersey. Her tombstone read, “One of the great Elsies of our time.” Elsie had a fictional cartoon mate you might be familiar with, Elmer the Bull, who was created for Borden’s then chemical division as a mascot for their Elmer’s Products. They were sometimes portrayed with children, Beulah (1947) and twins Larabee and Lobelia (1957). Since her inception, Elsie has been regarded as one of the most famous icons in the U.S. of the 20th century.
Smokey Bear - U.S. Forest Service
As the longest-running public service announcement in the United States, Smokey Bear has helped educate the American Public about forest fire prevention since 1944. World War II brought extra attention to wildfires for a couple of reasons. Firefighters and other men were serving in the armed forces, and Japan had begun altercations and warfare, leading to wildfires and the deaths of 6 Americans from firebombs in 1942. Walt Disney lent the characters from his recent hit, Bambi, to the government for promotion and prevention campaigns, but only for a year. After, the agency needed a new character, so Forest Service artist, Harry Rossoll, came up with the idea of a bear that was later given the name Smokey inspired by “Smokey” Joe Martin, a New York City firefighter who was praised and severely burned after a 1922 fire rescue. His creation (and birthday) was on August 9th, 1944, and he was first used in a poster on October 10th. It depicted Smokey wearing jeans and a campaign hat, pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. The message underneath read: “Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” In 1947, the slogan was changed to the famous, “Remember…only YOU can prevent forest fires.” In 2001, the term “forest fires” was amended to “wildfires” in response to the increasing number of fires erupting in areas other than forests.
Captain Morgan - Captain Morgan Rum Company
In 1944, the Seagram Company helped introduce the flavors of a new spiced rum named after an infamous Caribbean privateer, Sir Henry Morgan. Though the brand mascot depicts a more optimistic and lively captain, the original Henry Morgan was more known for his ruthlessness and cruelty on the seas. Nonetheless, the Captain Morgan imagery and brand have become one of the most famous icons to be introduced in advertising history. By 2007, the brand was the second-largest brand of spirits in the U.S. and, according to worldwide rum sales, was the 3rd largest seller of rum in the world in 2022. In 2011, archaeologists discovered the wreckage of one of Captain Morgan’s ships in Panama, where he lost five ships in an effort to capture the city, which he eventually did. Researchers were able to recover six cannons and other memorabilia from the ships, but sadly, nothing was ever confirmed to be owned by Captain Morgan, and even sadder…no liquor.
Elmer the Bull - Elmer’s Glue-All
Back with Borden Dairy, we have Elsie’s mate Elmer, who was created for their new chemical wing, curating a new type of glue. Elmer the Bull was featured in ads with Elsie for about a decade before getting his own product, typically drawn fixing things around the house, as was typical for their ads around this time. What was Borden’s connection to glue, you might wonder? Casein is a protein in dairy milk used in early glue forms. Initially, it was packaged and sold as “Cascorez Glue” and was sold in glass bottles. Consumers were in love with the product but claimed that it needed a more straightforward delivery method. By 1951, the glue was renamed Elmer’s Glue-All, and the company introduced a new innovation, the squeeze bottle, with theirs adorning the iconic orange cap.
Colonel Sanders - Kentucky Fried Chicken
As one of the most famous human mascots of any brand, Colonel Sanders’s face is recognizable almost anywhere you go. Designed after the creator of KFC himself, Harland Sanders, the restaurant saw its origins in Kentucky, where the 40-year-old spent nine years perfecting his 11 herbs and spices recipe. Now, there’s no questioning how popular the combination is, with more than 24,000 KFC locations in more than 145 countries around the world. Colonel Sanders remained the primary spokesperson for the brand until his death in 1980 with iconic slogans like, “We fix Sunday dinner seven nights a week.” and, of course, “finger-lickin’ good,” which became a trademarked slogan until 2006. Advertising played a significant role for KFC, first in 1962 when Dave Thomas took the KFC bucket and made it a revolving sign for almost every store location. In 1966, Sanders dedicated $4 million to advertising on television and even opened up the Kentucky Fried Chicken Advertising Co-Op. They then teamed up with copywriter Leo Burnett. By 1976, KFC was among the largest advertisers in the U.S.
Ronald McDonald - McDonald’s
In 1963, Ronald McDonald debuted as the “Hamburger-Happy Clown” on three separate television spots. According to a survey of American schoolchildren, 96% recognize the clown, his notoriety second only to Santa Claus. His portrayal and initial popularity can be attributed to Willard Scott, who played Ronald McDonald until 1965. At the time, Scott also starred in the show Bozo the Clown, one of the era’s most popular children’s programs. Though McDonald’s does not recognize anyone specifically for the creation of Ronald, many do thank Scott for what he has become today. However, over the years, questions and criticism of McDonald’s and the nutritional value of their food have come into question. In 2010, Corporate Accountability International in Boston called for the restaurant to retire the clown due to the child obesity epidemic. However, the international chain declared they wouldn’t retire the clown, claiming they don’t target children. Though occasional situations lead Ronald to go into hiding, like in 2016 with the increase and violence of clown sightings, he remains a leading figure for the brand.
The M&Ms - Mars
The first depictions of anthropomorphic M&M characters date back all the way to 1954, when a black and white advertisement depicted one plain and one peanut M&M diving into a pool of chocolate. They reapproached them in 1994 and recreated the M&Ms using CGI and had them interacting with celebrities, but their big breakthrough was with their “spokescandies” campaign. Created by Blue Sky Studios, Mars invited tons of celebrities like Jon Lovitz and John Goodman to voice the various colors of the candies. Many celebrities have lent their voices to the characters like J.K. Simmons, Vanessa Williams, and David Cross. In January 2022, Mars announced plans to change the designs of some of the characters and introduced more female characters to their lineup to try and broadly represent the array of human personalities and backgrounds. At the end of 2022, they announced a new Purple M&M voiced by Amber Ruffin.