Updated: Jun 17
During the 1930s, a highly publicized war was taking place between the dairy farming industry and the dairy processors. As pressure increased on the situation, there was a negative impact on the public opinion of these companies - seeing them as nothing more than evil moneymakers. At the time, one of the larger processing companies, determined to overcome the obstacles being set in their path, embarked on a new type of advertising journey. Borden decided that the best approach was a friendly one and began testing a new type of advertisement that keeps consumers smiling, even today.
The Birth of Elsie the Borden Cow
In 1936, Borden began testing its new advertising in medical journals. A part of their medical advertising campaign was Elsie the Borden Cow – but she wasn’t alone. In the original medical journal ads, Elsie was accompanied by other cartoon cows with names that included Mrs. Blossom, Bessie, and Clara.
The Popularity of Borden’s Medical Journal Ads Takes Off
A typical ad would show a cow and calf talking in the dairy barn:
Calf: “Mama, I think I see a germ!”
Cow: “Mercy, child – run quick for the Borden Inspector.”
In another ad, Borden showed a group of young heifers (think star-struck teen girls), hanging on the words of a lazy, un-impressive looking cow:
Heifers: “And now tell us about the time you got kicked out of Borden’s.”
The doctors loved these ads so much that they began reaching out to the company to have them put into print to hang on the practice walls. As the campaign in the medical journals continued, Borden began testing ads in New York area newspapers.
By 1938, Elsie became a household name across the United States and Canada. At that time, Borden was sponsoring network news commentator Rush Hughes. After reading a letter from Elsie on the air, fan mail began pouring in – not for Hughes, but for Elsie! It was then that Borden had its new spokescow.
Elsie at The World’s Fair
In 1939, Elsie debuted in national consumer magazines, creating an increased interest in the brand, and she even appeared on a bottle cap. The popularity of Hughes reading Elsie’s letter on the air resulted in regular correspondence between the commentator and spokescow.
Despite the preparations made by Borden for a scientific exhibit at The World’s Fair, they knew that if they didn’t have a real-life Elsie to accompany them, fans would be devastated. The first chosen Elsie was named Lobelia - and she would attend some of the most lavish parties at the time, sponsoring the Borden name as Elsie.
Elsie, Elmer, and Beulah
Skip ahead to the summer of 1940, Elmer and Beulah were introduced to Elsie’s storyline. Although the concepts were born a week apart, Elmer would become Elsie’s husband and Beulah, their daughter. At this time, Elsie also made her cinematic debut in “Little Men,” accompanying Jack Oakie and Kay Francis as a cow named Buttercup.
At the time of the invitation to play the role, Elsie was pregnant, and so Borden had to come up with a story – enter Elmer and the boudoir. The boudoir scene was less than PG but gave the impression of where little cows come from, thus explaining Elsie’s “situation.” The world then awaited the birth of the happy couple’s first daughter, Beulah. Elmer went on to become the spokescow for Elmer’s Glue.
Elsie Goes to Disney World and Continues Touring
Fast forwarding through time once again, Elsie opened Borden Ice Cream Parlor at Disney World in October 1971. Greeted upon arrival by Mickey Mouse and a bouquet, Elsie would be the first animal to meet a Disney animal face-to-face. Mickey, Minnie, and other Disney characters would applaud with excitement when Elsie cut the ribbon for the ice cream parlor.
Despite taking a hiatus, the real-life Elsie was welcomed back by popular culture with open arms. Parents would stop with their children just to pet and hug her. Despite being played by man cows in real life, the name Elsie and Borden have become synonymous. Elsie is proof that imagination has no end and that it will never die.