There is a litany of people who we think exist, but apparently are nothing more than works of fiction. Here is a list of such people.
The image of Aunt Jemima is based off a real person, but Aunt Jemima herself? She is the creation of Pearl Milling Company; and is now a trademark of Quaker Oats, representing their breakfast products like the syrup she is famous for.
The Aunt Jemima character was first created by the minstrel Billy Kersands’ 1875 song “Old Aunt Jemima”. Early history of the “Aunt Jemima” legacy says that the founders of Pearl Milling Company, Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood, attended a minstrel show featuring the “Aunt Jemima” song and were inspired to use “Aunt Jemima” as their selling technique. Pearl Milling Company failed in its operation, and the company was sold to R.T. Davis Milling Company in 1890.
It was then that R.T. David Milling Company hired a former slave named Nancy Green to be the spokeswoman for Aunt Jemima. It is Nancy Green’s image whom most people associate with Aunt Jemima. Green died in 1923 in a car accident, and the Aunt Jemima trademark is now owned by Quaker Oats.
In 1921, the Washburn Crosby Company wanted to have personalized name to responses from its consumers. They chose “Betty Crocker” because “Betty” had a fun, all-American sound to it; and Crocker was the last name of one of the company’s directors. Betty Crocker is now the trademark of General Mills.
General Mills formed when Washburn Crosby Company merged with five (or more) milling companies. Marjorie Child Husted was the actual creator of “Betty Crocker”. Husted actually ran a cooking show on the radio called Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air, and for two decades Husted scripted and voiced the character of Betty Crocker. None of the images of Betty Crocker throughout the years were from an actual model.
The name is a sinister one that evokes some of the ugliness of America’s overt racism in the past, but oddly enough it doesn’t refer to anyone in particular. It refers instead to a set of laws.
The name “Jim Crow” first developed in the 1832, when white actor Thomas D. Rice performed a song-and-dance in blackface called “Jump Jim Crow”. The performance caricatured blacks and was used as to make fun of then President Andrew Jackson’s policies. Ever since then, “Jim Crow” referred to African Americans. Thus, “Jim Crow Laws” meant laws pertaining to African Americans; in particular the segregation laws of the South, and the phrase “Jim Crow laws” itself probably originated shortly before 1904.
The Quaker Man
The Quaker Man logo of Quaker Oats is another fictional character who is sometimes believed to be real. Oddly enough, Quaker Oats has no affiliation with the Religious Society of Friends, aka Quakers. Quaker Oats used the Quaker archetype to symbolize the company’s integrity, honesty, and purity.
In any event, the Quaker Man enjoys the distinction of being the first trademark for a breakfast cereal, having been registered September 4, 1877. The logo we are familiar with was first created sometime around 1939 by Haddon Sundblom, and the model was fellow artist Harold W. McCauley.
This article’s final fictional character whom people think might be real is Uncle Ben, of Uncle Ben’s Rice, a product owned by Mars, Inc. Coincidentally, Uncle Ben – like Aunt Jemima and Jim Crow – derives from the culture of the American South, when white slave owners would refer to elder black slaves as “uncle”. The Uncle Ben trademark was first created in 1943 by Converted Rice Inc. which was bought out by Mars sometime in either 1944 or 1945.
The first image of Uncle Ben was of an elderly black man wearing a bowtie, representing a domestic servant. In March 2007, Mars set out with a new campaign to distance itself from using the old domestic servant icon, and “promoted” Uncle Ben as the “chairman of the board.”