Who Was Little Miss Sunbeam?
Little Miss Sunbeam has one of the most recognizable faces from the second half of the 20th century. Our Sunbeam Bread Metal Sign featuring Little Miss Sunbeam is one of our bestselling vintage style signs—and it’s easy to see why. The bread with the picture of the little girl on it is a favorite with advertising collectors as well as lovers of vintage Americana. Both inspire wonderful memories of childhood foods and bygone times.
The Sunbeam brand was first introduced by the Quality Bakers of America, a baking cooperative. First baked and sold in the Philadelphia, PA area in 1942, Sunbeam bread was an immediate success. The brand really took off with the end of World War II, when more bakers across the country were franchised to bake and market the bread. With a reputation for being nutritious and wholesome, Sunbeam bread became a dietary mainstay in American homes.
When the Sunbeam brand was first created in 1942, the Quality Bakers of America commissioned an illustrator to conceptualize an identity, a small child, to be the face of the brand. Ellen Segner was a well-known children’s book illustrator, having illustrated the Dick and Jane series for Glamour and Look magazines. Segner was also known as one of the few female pin-up and glamour artists.
Legend has it that Segner was inspired to create Little Miss Sunbeam after observing a little blonde girl in New York City’s Washington Square Park. She created sketches that she later used, with the help of live models, to create the final images. We refer to this as ‘legend’ because Stegner never substantiated these claims nor identified the child. Overall, Stegner produced more than 30 original oil paintings for Sunbeam advertising campaigns featuring Little Miss Sunbeam. These illustrations, as the property of the Quality Bakers of America, were used for print and outdoor advertising from the 40’s through the 60’s throughout the U.S.
There were also live models for Little Miss Sunbeam who made public appearances at grocery store openings and the like. Patty Michaels was a child model who, at five years old, was selected in 1955 to be the first Little Miss Sunbeam. Michaels made public appearances for the brand for two years. She left Sunbeam and went on to play Louisa von Trapp in the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music and later became a successful singer/performer. Other franchisers of the Sunbeam brand saw the success of a live model representing Sunbeam bread and many hired their own Little Miss Sunbeams to make public appearances.
The success of the character of Little Miss Sunbeam as a public figure and brand mascot led to her appearance in several comic books in the 1950’s. She appeared in nine issues of “Little Miss Sunbeam Comics” as Sunny Sunbeam. The comics featured Sunny’s adventures and were given away for free to promote Sunbeam bread.
Today Sunbeam products are distributed at nearly 40 bakeries across the U.S. and Little Miss Sunbeam still appears on all Sunbeam bread packaging. We just love this icon of American advertising and celebrate her 75 years of marketing success!