Elsie the Cow

Retro Staff 9 Comments

 Borden’s Elsie the CowElsie the Cow was first seen in a series of Borden company medical journal print ads in 1936.  She was part of a group of cartoon cows that were advertising the purity of Borden’s milk.  Commercial ads were also broadcast on the radio.  The spots were so popular that Borden singled out Elsie as its only “spokescow,” and she was to symbolize the “perfect dairy product.”

By the end of 1939, Elsie had shown up in consumer magazines, billboards, and had even made her appearance on Borden’s milk bottle caps.  Her most famous appearance was at the New York World’s Fair that same year.  For this showing, Borden needed to come up with a real cow, and selected most beautiful of their cows for the job.  She was a seven year-old blue-blooded Jersey, born in Brookfield, Massachusetts, named “You’ll Do Lobelia.”  The cow was given a blanket with her new name, Elsie, embroidered on it, and was shown to the public as they walked through the Borden Futuristic Agricultural Exhibit.

In 1940, another Borden exhibit was created for the New York World’s Fair.  This time, it specifically catered to Elsie.  Called the “Bovine Boudoir,” the exhibit was complete with furniture and props.  Due to the publicity and successful advertising campaign, RKO asked if Elsie could co-star in the movie Little Men.  This presented a great opportunity for Elsie, but left the exhibit with no cow.  Thus, Borden invented a husband, Elmer, to take her place.  Elmer stood at the center of his bachelor pad until Elsie returned just before the closing of the fair. As a surprise, Elsiehad given birth to a baby named Beulah.  That year the Borden exhibit was the most popular one in the fair – even more than the General Motors multimillion-dollar Futurama.

Elsie The Borden Cow Button

Elsie The Borden Cow Button

Elsie continued to appear in print ads for Borden’s dairy products, and over the following years she went through a few changes.  She could already talk, and she was given the ability to stand upright.  Eventually she became a mixture of cow and housewife.  Her image was so appreciated she became the mascot for the entire line of Borden dairy products.

Elsie and Beulah went on several live tours to advertise Borden’s and also to promote U.S. War Bonds.  She even appeared on television’s What’s My Line.

In 1947, Elsie had another calf on the way, and a contest to name the baby brought in over a million entries.  She actually gave birth to the bull at New York’s Macy’s department store, and he was named Beauregard.  The contest was so successful that in 1957 another contest took place to name two more babies, bringing in over three million entries.  The winning names for the twins were Larabee and Lobelia.

Elsie continued to tour with her family, making a stop at Freedomland USA – a theme park in the Bronx that depicted America’s history.  She made another appearance at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, where the Borden’s exhibit was called the Better Living Pavilion and featured Elsie in a musical revue.

Elsie was seen in advertising campaigns for over 30 years, but she was never able to make the transition to television.  Except for the rare promotional appearance, she was retired in the late 1960s.  Borden’s kept her image on their products, and she is still on many products today.

In 2000, Elsie was named one of the Top Ten advertising icons of all time by Advertising Age.  In 2007, she helped Borden’s celebrate 150 years of products.  In 2008, the “Friends of Elsie” campaign launched to help foster a relationship between American families and American farmers.

If you have any interesting stories about Elsie the Cow, please join the discussion!

Last updated: Feb 11, 2009
Filed under: Retro Characters Tagged with: advertising, marketing, Retro Characters