Rastus and Jemima Do the Fair

(Click here to go to the first entry in this blog series on the Gay ’90s to read the material in sequential order.)

Earlier blog entries in this series chronicled the widespread, enduring influence the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair/Columbian Exposition had on future US culture through the introduction of both the “Ferris Wheel” and the “midway” from then on at fairs and carnivals across the land. Another entry told of the permanent legacy of the Pledge of Allegiance that was introduced at that Fair and also spread throughout the country.

There is another major impact that the Fair had, this one closer to home right in Chicago.

The magnificent Fine Arts building was the only major Fair structure that was specifically constructed substantially enough to endure after the Fair closed in the fall of 1893. It had been built with brick under the “staff” (plaster) façade, rather than just with a temporary wooden frame.

fine arts1fine arts2

When the Fair was over, a major endowment from Chicago millionaire and department store magnate Marshall Field, along with other donations, provided the funds to turn the Fine Arts building into the Columbian Museum of Chicago. The new museum purchased many of the Fair’s major and minor displays from around the world, a collection of tens of thousands of items—taxidermied animals, gemstones, skeletons, ethnic costumes, cultural artifacts and paraphernalia of numerous primitive and civilized groups and much more—that to this day form much of the central collection of the huge museum.

The rest of the fairgrounds were returned to their natural state, and the lagoon in front of the Fine Arts building was drained. Within the year, it opened again as the Museum.

In 1905, the name was changed to the Field Museum of Natural History to honor benefactor Marshall Field. In 1921, a new facility was built to hold the museum collections closer to downtown Chicago. Here’s that new Field Museum on opening day in 1921, before the landscaping was finished.

first field

And here it is today.

field big

The old Fine Arts building sat empty for an extended period. But in time to debut at the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago, it was given a whole new facelift with limestone blocks, and turned into the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, now the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere.

modern scienceMy family and I have visited the Field Museum numerous times, and have enjoyed exploring its beautiful corridors and vast collections every time.

field downtownfield inside

In fact, I just discovered that the museum is right now featuring a year-long exhibit, until September 2014, about the 1893 World’s Fair, and will be “opening its vaults” to display many items from its vast storage collection that have not been seen by the public since they were boxed up at the end of that Fair!

open vault

My husband and I are planning on visiting there during a trip we will be taking to the Midwest in Spring 2014. For more information, see the details on the Field Museum website at the link below.

“Opening the Vaults”

We’ve also visited more than once the modern Museum of Science and Industry that is still housed in the 1893 Fair’s old Fine Arts building.

science interior1science interior2

So both of these famous Chicago museums are now a part of the enduring legacy of the 1893 Fair, one housed in its last remaining building, the other containing a huge part of the exhibits visitors saw at the Fair.

The midway, Ferris Wheel, and Chicago Museums are the most impressive tangible parts of the legacy of the Fair, but there were a lot of other “lesser” things there that have endured to today too.

Just like a county fair, the 1893 World’s Fair actually did award prizes…medals (instead of blue ribbons)…to outstanding exhibits, from live farm animals to various food items, gadgets, machines, and more. Some were even making their “debut” at the fair.


This is the original Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. Nature’s choicest products provide its prized flavor. Only the finest of hops and grains are used. Selected as America’s Best in 1893.

The words above are from the modern label of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.

pabst The Pabst brewery had an exhibit of its products at the fair, including Pabst Select beer. The bottles had had a blue ribbon tied around their neck since 1882. But the Pabst company claims now that it renamed its “flagship” beer “Blue Ribbon” after the fair to draw attention to the fact that it had been declared “America’s Best” at the Fair.

pabst old

(Blue Ribbon was pretty popular at one time, peaking at 18 million barrels sold in 1977. It is evidently no longer considered “American’s Best” by very many people these days. It had dropped to only a million barrels by 2001.)


The Washburn and Crosby milling company presented its flour at the Fair, and earned a medal…and henceforth started labeling it for sale as Gold Medal Flour.

old gold medal

In 1921 the company introduced Betty Crocker to market its products. W&C merged with other companies in 1928 to become General Mills. Which still markets Gold Medal flour to this day.

gold medal new Breakfast

Breakfast was a big deal at the fair. A couple of indispensable breakfast items clear into the 21st century were first introduced to the wider public at the fair.

Aunt Jemima Pancake Flour

[The character] Aunt Jemima [was] created in 1889 by Charles Rutt, a Missouri newspaper editor, and Charles G. Underwood, a mill owner, as a promotion for their new self-rising flour that only needed water. They then sold the pancake recipe and the accompanying Aunt Jemima marketing idea to the R.T. Davis Mill Company, which improved the pancake formula and developed an advertising plan to use a real person to portray Aunt Jemima.

The woman they found to serve as the live model was Nancy Green, who was born a slave in Kentucky in 1834. She impersonated Aunt Jemima until her death in 1923.

Aunt Jemima was not an instant hit. With little profit to show for their efforts, R.T. Davis Company decided to put everything into a promotional exhibition at the 1893 World’s Exposition in Chicago. They constructed the world’s largest flour barrel, 24 feet high and 12 feet across, to grab people’s attention. Then they put Nancy Green on display and gave her an act. She dressed as Aunt Jemima, sang songs, cooked pancakes, and told romanticized stories about the Old South (a happy place for blacks and whites, alike, now accessible only by nostalgia, or by buying Aunt Jemima’s pancake recipe).


Ladies’ Home Journal, 1921, ad looking back to the 1893 Fair


Green was a huge success. By the end of the Exposition she had served tens of thousands of pancakes and had become a national celebrity. Green then went on tour, her arrival heralded by large billboards featuring her image and the caption, “I’se in town, honey.” Green, as Aunt Jemima, appeared at countless country fairs, flea markets, food shows, and local grocery stores.  [Source]

auntjemimaisintownThe company offered those rag dolls you see above as a premium for a number of years. Here’s an ad from about 1910 offering the whole family–15 inch Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose (Mose’s name was originally Rastus, but the company switched his name when it became confused with Cream of Wheat’s own Rastus (see below).) And 12 inch Diana and Wade.

doll ad

All you had to do was send in the top from three packages of Aunt Jemima pancake flour and ten cents.

Somebody did just that in about 1910 and acquired the dolls below, which are now genuine antiques, and offered on Ebay to collectors of such memorabilia.


Cream of Wheat

 Then there was Aunt Jemima’s male advertising counterpart, Rastus, who made his debut on advertising at the fair for another brand new breakfast choice that debuted there, Cream of Wheat.

1897 gluten creamrastus

Rastus was evidently modeled after a photo of a well-known African-American chef at a popular Chicago restaurant. (Blacks may not have been welcome at the dining table in most restaurants at the time, but they were welcome to work in the kitchen to make dinner for those who were.)

It was typical in the late 19th century, and far into the 20th, for advertisers to capitalize on using iconic African-American characters in subservient positions to portray the subconscious illusion to white folks that they could “return to the genteel days of pre-Civil War plantation life,” with jolly, satisfied house slaves…just by buying the product. You never saw Rastus offering his trays of Cream of Wheat to other black folks in ads…he was always standing respectfully back from the table while well-dressed white folk—often as not, small children—enjoyed their Cream of Wheat.


There were lots of other “firsts” at the Fair. I include a few more below:

Automatic Dishwasher

Modern dishwashers are descended from the 1887 invention of Josephine Cochrane who invented a new advanced dishwasher, also hand-powered, which she unveiled at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Cochrane was quite wealthy and was the granddaughter of John Fitch, the inventor of the steamboat. She never washed dishes herself and invented the dishwasher because her servants were chipping her fine china. [Source]

Cochrane was a rich woman who hosted frequent dinner parties. She did not do any of the dishes herself because she had servants to do that for her, but she wanted a machine that could do the job faster without chipping any dishes. No one had invented such a machine so she built one herself. She is said to have exclaimed, “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself!” First she measured the dishes. Then she built wire compartments, each specially designed to fit either plates, cups, or saucers. The compartments were placed inside a wheel that lay flat inside a copper boiler. A motor turned the wheel while hot soapy water squirted up from the bottom of the boiler and rained down on the dishes. Her friends were very impressed and had her make dishwashing machines for them, calling them the “Cochrane Dishwasher”.


The word was spread and soon, Cochrane was getting orders for her dishwashing machine from restaurants and hotels in Illinois. She patented her design and went into production. She showed her invention at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and won the highest prize for “best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work”. She started the Garis-Cochran Manufacturing Company, which became part of KitchenAid, which became part of Whirlpool.[ Wiki]

Elongated Coins

 If you’ve been to any museums, or theme parks like Walt Disney World, in recent decades, you are likely familiar with “elongated coins,” often called “pressed pennies.” Those are the souvenirs you “make for yourself” by inserting a penny into a little machine that “rolls it out” into an elongated shape and imprints it with wording and illustrations related to the place you are visiting. Lots of people collect these elongated coins.

penny presserpressed penny

The very first elongated coins in the US were created at the 1893 Fair. Fairgoers, just like today, could put a penny in the machine and press their own memento of the Fair, choosing from several designs available. Many of these are still around today, and you can purchase them for your own collection from Ebay.

elongated Juicy Fruit Gum

 Wrigleys Juicy Fruit Gum, the first flavor offered by the Wrigley Company, was also introduced at the 1893 Fair. The inventor, William Wrigley, Jr., had originally used sticks of gum as a “premium,” packing two sticks inside each can of baking powder his company sold. He eventually found that people liked his gum better than his baking powder, and shifted gears to produce gum instead. Juicy Fruit was first offered to the wider public at the fair.

juicy fruit original

Before long Wrigley proudly boasted on the label that it had a “fascinating artificial flavor”!


But this was long before “artificial flavor” was a dirty phrase. And the gum became wildly popular. So popular that it wasn’t available to civilians during World War 2. The ingredients were scarce, and soldiers made it clear that Juicy Fruit was one of the things that made life tolerable on the Front…so packs of Juicy Fruit were included in the standard packages of C Rations!

After the War, it became available to the public again, and soon showed up in the yellow package most of us have been familiar with for our whole lives.

juicy new

But it all began in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition.

This series continues:

White City to…Ghost Town

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