As long as the Campbell Soup Company has been advertising its soups nationally, it has been marketing based on appeal to children. The Campbell Soup Kids first appeared in 1905, when the company was still called the Joseph Campbell Company.
The first Campbell Kids were drawn by Grace Drayton. A prodigious illustrator, she was a staff artist for the Philadelphia Press and Evening Journal, and also a children’s book illustrator.
Her husband, Theodore Wiederseim, who worked for the Ketterlineus Lithographic Manufacturing Company in Philadelphia, recommended her services to Campbell since she had been drawing little kids with round faces and rosy cheeks for years. She adapted her drawings for Campbell and they became the basis for the Campbell Kids. There were not just two or three kids; the company used many different kids, up to 16.
The Campbell Kids were something of a phenomenon in their hey-day. Starting in 1905, they first appeared on the sides of streetcars and in magazine advertisements, first in black and white, and later in full color. They were so cute that the company licensed the E.I. Horsman Company to make dolls in their likeness.
They were enormously popular, and other companies scrambled to win the rights to manufacture them. They were sold in many stores, such as Montgomery Ward and Sears. If a child in those days owned a doll, it was quite likely to be a Campbell Kids doll.
E.I. Horsman Company was a leader in the doll industry and made many dolls based on famous characters, as well as many originals. Some of their dolls, today, are highly collectible and can be quite valuable. Besides the Campbell Kids, among the other character dolls they made were Jackie Coogan, Patty Duke aka Flying Nun, Pippi Longstocking, Hansel and Gretel, Jackie Kennedy, and Marry Poppins.
In 1928, the American Character Doll Company took over the rights for making the dolls. They produced Campbell Kids dolls in chef’s clothes, which had been made famous in advertisements. In the 1940’s, the Ideal Company acquired Horsman and took over, again, the rights to the dolls. They later sold the rights to Dee and Cee, a Canadian company.
Also, in the 1930’s, other dolls appeared that looked very similar to the Campbell Kids. This is because Grace Wiederseim, aka, Grace Dayton, designed a set of dolls in her signature style, named Bobby Bounce and Dolly Dimple. These images appeared on other media, as well.
Through it all, the kids appeared on anything and everywhere, such as balloons, calendars, canisters, cards, clocks, cookbooks, cookie jars, games, decals, dishes, hats, lamps, buttons, lunch boxes, mugs, napkins, ornaments, playing cards, pins, plates, posters, T-shirts thermoses, toys, watches, and many, many other items. Up until 1921, the kids would appear in pretty much every advertisement Campbell ran.
After this, they were used less and less, until they were brought back with a bang in 1954 to celebrate their fiftieth birthday. Again, their likeness was licensed to appear on many items. At this time, 500,000 Campbell Kids dolls were also released, and the kids appeared on television commercials.
Campbell Kids dolls, and any other items featuring the kids, are highly collectible. Some can be very valuable. Campbell was one of the first companies to use human characters in its advertising. This also introduced a uniformity to the advertisements, so that consumers could instantly recognize the Campbell Kids and Campbell soup, while the characters invited endless variation on the theme, so that each ad could be somewhat unique. Compare this to the earlier style of advertising, which tended toward uniqueness without uniformity, and you might realize the advantage, and just why the kids became such and advertising force. Of course, the red and white Campbell’s label was an important symbol in its own right.
The company, in fact, went so far as to spell it out to consumers, such as in magazine advertisements from around 1914 which asked “Do you realize the full meaning of the Campbell Kids?”
Behind their whimsical pranks and droll sayings is a serious purpose of direct importance to you. For the main object-in-life of these rollicking youngsters is to remind you of Campbell’s Tomato Soup. To remind you that it is good for your own young people as well as the older ones; that its lively and enticing flavor adds to the enjoyment of life just as its wholesome equality helps you to promote good digestion and robust health…
The kids continued to be updated and modernized through the years. Many other child character advertising ‘spokespeople’ had appeared, of course, some not as well-remembered, or appreciated. For example, the overtly racist “Gold Dust Twins,” two little black children who appeared on boxes of Gold Dust washing powder with the slogan. Beginning in 1904 they appeared as cartoonish characters of indeterminate sex wearing tutus with the words “Gold” on one and “Dust” on the other, along with the slogan “Let the Gold Dust Twins Do Your Work.”
These twins appeared in advertising in the 1890’s and were not completely phased out until the 1950’s. They were even part of a musical variety program broadcast on the radio station WEAF in New York. The twins were played by white actors.
Another, less offensive, example is the Fairy Soap Girl, who appeared with the slogan “Have you a little Fairy in your home?” The fair complexion of the “little fairy” was meant to show you what fairy soap could do, just as the rosy cheeked and chubby Campbell Kids were meant to remind you of the healthful virtues of Campbell’s soups. By comparison, the idea that Gold Dust washing powder would “do the work for you” was symbolized by a much less benign image. Yet, Fairy Soap and Gold Dust Washing Powder were made by the same company, the N.K. Fairbanks Company of Chicago.