The Real Duncan Hines—The Man, Not the Cake Mix

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena uses old newspapers and other online resources to learn more about Duncan Hines—whose real-life accomplishments were so much more than just getting his name onto boxes of cake mix.

When you hear the words “Duncan Hines” you may visualize a homemade cake. Today, most people recognize the Duncan Hines name as one gracing the front of cake mix boxes, but Duncan Hines was a real person who had an interesting foray into the food and hospitality businesses.

photo of a box of Duncan Hines cake mix

Photo: Mixer and box of Duncan Hines cake mix. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

In today’s world if you want a recommendation for a hotel or a restaurant you look for a website. Prior to the Internet you most likely used a guide from an organization like AAA (the American Automobile Association) to choose where to stay on a vacation or work-related trip. But whom did your family rely on for such advice in the mid-20th century?

The Traveling Foodie

Duncan Hines didn’t start out to become an everyday name associated with food and lodging. He didn’t even start out working in the food industry. Duncan Hines (1880-1959) was a traveling salesman for a printer who, as he racked up miles crossing the country for his work, ate at lots of restaurants. In 1935 he shared his recommendations in a Christmas card and quite by accident stumbled upon a new venture.*

That Christmas card eventually became a business. The Duncan Hines brand was not unlike the multiproduct brand names we see in the food industry today. Products associated with famous chefs or homemaking experts like Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart follow in Hines’s footsteps. His coveted reviews of restaurants expanded to hotels—he even rented out signs that proclaimed an establishment recommended by him. Eventually his name graced a multitude of food products including the well-known cake mixes of today.

Hine’s Ratings & Recommendations Books

Adventures in Good Eating, his multi-edition book of restaurant recommendations, blossomed into regular newspaper columns that included recipes from restaurants he had reviewed.

Duncan Hines: Adventures in Good Eating, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 24 August 1948

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 24 August 1948, page 9

The success of Adventures in Good Eating led to Hines’s hotel guide entitled Lodging for a Night (digitized on Internet Archive at http://archive.org/stream/lodgingfornight00hinerich#page/n5/mode/2up).

There is no doubt that Hines became a celebrity in his own right. Lodging for a Night includes a warning that “a surprising number” of imposters who claim to be his family had been known to ask for free food and lodging. Hines warns proprietors to refuse such offers (pg. xiv).

photo of the cover of the Duncan Hines book "Lodging for a Night"

Photo: Book cover of Lodging for a Night by Duncan Hines. Credit: Internet Archive.

Hines’s descriptions of hotels are reminiscent of conversing with a good friend. He not only provides some of the basic information a traveler would need but also includes comments about the proprietors—like in the listing for the Sutter Hotel in Yuba City, California. Hines writes: “If you want to see what a man with brains can do with a hotel that 2 year ago was not any too good, drop in and meet Mr. Hass” (p. 61). In his write-up of the Oak Creek Lodge in Flagstaff, Arizona, Hines reports that the owners are Carl and Ethel Meyhew, along with their son and daughter (p. 19).

Duncan Hines was a well-respected figure, and that respect led him to lecture on food issues (such as warning against eating a poor breakfast), as seen in this 1954 article from a Texas newspaper.

Duncan Hines Warns about Poor Breakfasts, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 8 October 1954

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 8 October 1954, page 2

At one time the Duncan Hines name was on a multitude of products, everything from ice cream to baking mixes to hams. For a man who was once a traveling salesman, his Christmas card idea turned into an industry that Americans are still familiar with today.

photo of an ad for Duncan Hines smoked hams

Photo: Duncan Hines ad for smoked hams. Credit: Internet Archive.

Dig into the online archives now to learn more about the life of Duncan Hines, read more of his restaurant reviews in Adventures in Good Eating in the newspaper, and more.

___________________

* Duncan Hines. He is the traveler’s authority on where to eat by Phyllis Larsh. Life. 8 July 1946. Page 16-17. Available at http://books.google.com/books?id=JEoEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PP1&dq=Duncan%20hines%20life%20magazine&pg=PA16#v=onepage&q=Duncan%20hines&f=false.

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Written by Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega holds a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master’s degree in Religion. Presenting on various subjects involving genealogy, women’s studies and social history, Gena has spoken to groups throughout the United States and virtually to audiences worldwide.

Gena is the author of hundreds of articles published in genealogy newsletters and magazines including Internet Genealogy, Family Chronicle, GenWeekly, FGS Forum, APG Quarterly and the WorldVitalRecords newsletter. She is the author of the books, Putting the Pieces Together, Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) and From the Family Kitchen (F + W Media, 2012).

Gena is the editor of the Utah Genealogical Association’s journal Crossroads. An instructor for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, Gena has written courses about social media and Google. She serves as Vice-President for the So. California Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, board member of the Utah Genealogical Association and is a Director for the California State Genealogical Alliance.

Her current research interests include social history, community, social history, community cookbooks, signature quilts and researching women’s lives.

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