Aunt Jemima Syrup Bottle


In 1939, Walter Landor arrived in the United States to help install the British training pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. At twenty-six years old, Landor had left his home in Germany to study art and design in Britain, where he became the youngest Fellow of the Royal Society of Industrial Artists. With whispers of war circulating around Europe, Landor decided to stay in the United States and travelled to the West Coast in search of design work. In 1941, Landor and his new wife Josephine Martinelli founded Walter Landor and Associates (today Landor) in their San Francisco apartment. The company specialized in packaging and label design for a number of iconic brands ranging from Marlboro cigarettes to Aunt Jemima to Sara Lee. As the company expanded, Landor’s base of operations moved from his home through several locations until it settled in 1962 on the Klamath, a docked ferryboat in the San Francisco Bay that would become an iconic part of Landor’s own brand.

In 1966, Aunt Jemima’s ready-made pancakes debuted their own brand of syrup. Aunt Jemima began in 1889 in St. Joseph, Missouri, when Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood created the first ready-mix pancake. Searching for a character to mark their brand, the company settled on the Aunt Jemima figure after viewing a minstrel show which included a southern mammy, a fictional African American female figure happily enslaved to a White family. The use of Black characters to sell home goods to White consumers draws upon stereotypes of African-Americans established during the period of slavery; in particular it references the stereotype of African-Americans in a servile position. In 1926, Quaker Oats purchased the Aunt Jemima brand and continued to expand it. As Aunt Jemima grew in popularity, the company employed a number of Black women to act as Aunt Jemima at events ranging from World’s Fairs to grocery stores to Disneyland. In 1989, Quaker Oats redesigned and updated Aunt Jemima, changing her from an outdated stereotype to the design that is still in use today: a modern Black woman.

Location: Currently not on view

Credit Line: Bequest of Walter and Josephine Landor

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1993.0393.042Accession Number: 1993.0393Catalog Number: 1993.0393.042

Object Name: Syrup Bottle

Measurements: overall: 22 cm x 11 cm x 7 cm; 8 11/16 in x 4 5/16 in x 2 3/4 in


Record Id: nmah_1297790

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.