By Heather Taylor
When Ann Turner Cook turned 90 years old in 2016, it was a monumental occasion. Aside from being a big birthday for Cook, it was also a landmark day for one of the world’s most recognizable brand icons, the Gerber Baby, who was sketched off of her likeness. Ann Turner Cook is the Gerber Baby, the face that the world collectively went goo goo gaa gaa over.
Artist Dorothy Hope Smith can be credited with illustrating one of advertising’s most cherubic faces. In 1928, Gerber held a contest searching for an image of a baby that could represent their baby food advertising campaign. Smith specialized in drawing babies and was a friend of Ann’s family, asking her mother if four-month-old Ann could be used as her model.
One simple charcoal sketch later, Smith submitted her image of baby Ann’s bright-eyed visage with adorably pursed lips and the tiniest hint of a cowlick on her head. Smith noted in her entry that she would finish the image if she won since the picture was still just a sketch.
Thousands of entries poured in throughout the nation ranging from simple to elaborate, with some submissions even including oil paintings! The judges, however, were captivated by Smith’s illustration. The image won the contest and despite Smith’s offers to finish it, the judges preferred to keep it as a sketch. The sketch was so popular that in 1931, it became Gerber’s official trademark. Since then, every single Gerber product has featured Ann’s face on it.
What made this tiny babe such a hit with the judges and audiences? Ann thinks everyone sees his or her own baby in the image, “The drawing became so instantly popular, I think, because it captures the look of an alert, happy, healthy baby. I think all parents want for their own baby.”
Interestingly enough, the Gerber Baby’s identity would not be revealed until 1978. Before the great reveal, Americans were polled to place their bets on the icon’s identity. Guesses included everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Bob Dole, with actress Jane Seymour as a rumored popular guess. But it was Ann Turner Cook who knew the truth about one of advertising’s best-kept secrets.
Today, Ann is a retired English teacher, mystery novelist, and mother to four adult children who all take great pride in knowing their mom is the Gerber Baby. She does too — thrilled to have her likeness associated with Gerber and its commitment to nourishing a healthier generation, one baby at a time.
Image Credits: Gerber