Fremont Canning Company, owned and operated by Frank Daniel Gerber and his son Daniel Frank Gerber, was looking for a baby face for its new baby-food campaign that was to start in the latter part of 1928. To find a baby face that it believed would best represent the new baby food, the Fremont Canning Company conducted a contest in the summer of 1928. Many drawings and paintings were submitted. Some were elaborate baby portraits in oil paint, while others were simple sketches.
Dorothy Hope Smith of Westport, Connecticut, an artist specializing in children’s drawings, submitted an unfinished charcoal drawing that was closer to a simple sketch than a professional drawing. Smith told the judges that, if the sketch were selected as the winner, she would finish it professionally. The drawing won but, to her surprise, the judges wanted no changes to it.
In 1928 the “Gerber Baby” symbol was introduced to help identify the new product. It was first used in a baby-food advertisement in Good Housekeeping magazine. Within sixty days, Gerber Strained Foods, using the “Gerber Baby” symbol, had gained national recognition, being distributed to various places throughout the United States. It became internationally recognized.
The campaign encouraged mothers of newborns to participate directly in a coupon-redemption program. The introductory offer gave each consumer six cans of the canning company’s soup and strained vegetables for a dollar in exchange for the name of a favorite grocer. The idea was to stress the nutritional value of Gerber’s baby foods and the time- and money-saving advantages over buying by prescription. The sketch was so popular that it became the Fremont Canning Company’s official trademark in 1931. The Gerber Baby has since appeared on all Gerber packaging and in every Gerber advertisement. The Fremont Canning Company changed its name to Gerber Products Company in 1941.
The model for Smith's original sketch, Ann Turner Cook grew up to be a mystery novelist and English teacher. Although she avoided publicity for many years, Cook more recently has granted interviews to several Florida newspapers.
In early 2011, the company was in the process of looking for the next Gerber Baby. It eventually chose a toddler named Mary Jane Montoy. Earlier a poll conducted in the United States showed that many people thought that the Gerber Baby became someone famous, such as Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, or Ernest Borgnine. The Gerber Baby trademark has been shown by the United States public to be associated with the highest consumer loyalty, according to a 1998 survey.
- "The Gerber baby story". Retrieved 2014-05-25.
- Ingham, p. 444
- Belasco, p. 104
- Heim, p. 123
- Avakian, p. 75
- Ingham, p. 444 To identify the product, and to reassure mothers, the "Gerber Baby" symbol was adopted, which soon became famous throughout the world.
- Ingham, p. 444 Within sixty days, "Gerber Strained Foods" had gained spotty national distribution.
- Avakian, Arlene Voski et al., From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies, Liverpool University Press (2005), ISBN 1-55849-511-8
- Belasco, Warren James, Food Nations, Routledge (2002), ISBN 0-415-93076-6
- Heim, Michael, Exploring America's Highways, Exploring America's Highway (2004), ISBN 0-9744358-2-1
- Ingham, John N., Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders: A-G, Greenwood Publishing Group (1983), ISBN 0-313-23907-X