A few years ago, on a trip to photograph in Iowa, we noticed a Bull Durham sign on the side of a building as we drove on the highway past Dubuque. We ended up seeing it on several more trips to Iowa. Finally, we decided that we’d better photograph it before it faded away.
Seeing an advertising mural from far away or in someone else’s photograph is one thing, but getting to the appropriate location to photograph it yourself is another. As we drove up and down the streets of Dubuque trying to find the best location to capture the Bull Durham sign, we noticed a Uneeda Biscuit advertising mural on the side of a nearby building.
Although the Uneeda Biscuit scene wasn’t particularly picturesque, we decided to photograph it because we hadn’t seen one of these before and didn’t know anything about the product. This year, in researching for our recent trip to North Carolina, Ruth learned of a picturesque advertising mural for the National Biscuit Company, the makers of Uneeda Biscuit.
The mural was located on the side of an old general store known as the C.W. Burleson Store in Avery County, North Carolina. It consisted of four panels; three of them advertising for the National Biscuit Company, and one containing the names of three other businesses.
The first National Biscuit Company panel advertised Graham Crackers. The second panel advertised Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. For any of our readers who enjoy the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” little 5-year-old Zuzu Bailey’s name came from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. Toward the end of the movie, George Bailey says, “Zuzu, my little ginger snap.”
The third panel advertised Uneeda Biscuit. The National Biscuit Company was formed in 1898 through the merger of three large biscuit manufacturing companies. Prior to that time, crackers were delivered to general stores in unbranded wooden barrels. Mothers would send their sons to the store to buy crackers, which were scooped from the open barrel into a paper sack. These crackers were fairly fresh if they were purchased immediately after the barrel was opened. Soon, however, the quality deteriorated due to the crackers taking on humidity and becoming broken.
Around 1900, the National Biscuit Company came up with a lighter and flakier cracker. They also developed a revolutionary packaging system called the In-Er Seal package that would “seal the freshness” of the crackers in small packages made of wax paper and cardboard. Then they developed an advertising campaign sequence to get the public’s attention: Uneeda Biscuit. Do you know Uneeda Biscuit? Of course Uneeda Biscuit. These slogans were accompanied by one of the most famous advertising icons in history, the Uneeda Biscuit Boy, wearing a yellow rain slicker and hat and carrying a box of Uneeda Biscuit. This was to signify that mothers could send their sons to the store for crackers and they would stay dry and fresh, even in the rain.
On our way back from North Carolina and West Virginia, we had planned to spend our last full day of photographing on the backroads of Kentucky. Unfortunately, it had begun raining the night before and the heavy rains continued throughout that day. Around mid-morning, we drove down some flooded roads and decided it wasn’t safe to remain on the backroads. We then headed to Lexington to hunt up a couple more Uneeda Biscuit signs that we knew were in downtown Lexington.
Because we didn’t know exactly where the signs were, it took some serious hunting and neck-craning to locate the signs. And, not only did the rain continue to pour down, but lightning and thunder moved in making for a dangerous situation. Not wanting to leave Lexington until we had captured the Uneeda Biscuit signs, I took my chances with the thunderstorm and managed to get the photographs. I also managed to get completely soaked even though I was wearing a rain suit. This was due to reaching into my pockets for filters and lens caps and sloshing through deep puddles. In other words, I wasn’t doing as good of a job as the Uneeda Biscuit Boy in keeping things dry and fresh.
In 1971, the National Biscuit Company officially changed its corporate name to Nabisco. If, after reading this blog post, you feel like Uneeda Biscuit, you’ll have to settle for one of Nabisco’s other brands. Sadly, I have to report that the Uneeda Biscuit brand was discontinued in 2009 after 110 years on the market.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of biscuit history and, as always, Happy Shunpiking!