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Duncan Hines

Duncan Hines: How a Traveling Salesman Became the Most Trusted Name in Food

Louis Hatchett
Michael Stern
Jane Stern
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 354
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  • Book Info
    Duncan Hines
    Book Description:

    Duncan Hines (1880--1959) may be best known for the cake mixes, baked goods, and bread products that bear his name, but most people forget that he was a real person and not just a fictitious figure invented for the brand. America's pioneer restaurant critic, Hines discovered his passion while working as a traveling salesman during the 1920s and 1930s -- a time when food standards were poorly enforced and safety was a constant concern. He traveled across America discovering restaurants and offering his recommendations to readers in his best-selling compilation Adventures in Good Eating (1935). The success of this work and of his subsequent publications led Hines to manufacture the extremely popular food products that we still enjoy today.

    In Duncan Hines, author Louis Hatchett explores the story of the man, from his humble beginnings in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to his lucrative licensing deal with Proctor & Gamble. Following the successful debut of his restaurant guide, Hines published his first cookbook, Adventures in Good Cooking (1939), at the age of 59 and followed it with The Dessert Book (1955). These culinary classics included recipes from many of the establishments he visited on his travels, favorites handed down through his family for generations, and new dishes that contained unusual ingredients for the era. Many of the recipes served as inspiration for mixes that eventually became available under the Duncan Hines brand.

    This authoritative biography is a comprehensive account of the life and legacy of a savvy businessman, American icon, and an often-overlooked culinary pioneer whose love of good food led to his name becoming a grocery shelf favorite. Hatchett offers insightful commentary into the man behind the cake mix boxes and how he paved the way for many others like him.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4484-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Michael Stern and Jane Stern

    Today, everyone’s a restaurant critic. In 1936, when Duncan Hines first publishedAdventures in Good Eating,he defined the job. Into a nation where eating on the road could be a genuine health hazard and where the few city guides were puffery financed by the restaurants they reviewed, Hines blazed a trail of honesty, reliability, and, most important of all, discovery. His groundbreaking achievement, brilliantly described in this book—which is so much more than simple biography—is as significant in the world of food as Thomas Edison’s is in lighting.

    Starting as nothing more than a hobby of jotting...

  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xv-xxviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    Mention the name “Duncan Hines” to Americans under fifty-five today and the image their minds will undoubtedly conjure is a cake mix package. No one can blame them if they fail to recognize the significance of the man for whom the cake mix is named. Was Duncan Hines named for two men, one named Duncan and the other named Hines, who jointly created a nationally recognized brand name? Or was Duncan Hines a real person? Few know the answer.

    On the other hand, mention the name “Duncan Hines” to Americans over fifty-five and a much different picture emerges. To this...

  7. 1 Bowling Green
    (pp. 4-17)

    There is a cartoon from the 1940s that, at one time, was every restaurant owner’s nightmare. The scene is a dining room of a fancy four-star restaurant. A waiter has accidentally spilled an entire tray of food onto the head and lap of a nicely–attired customer. The customer, neatly dressed in his evening tuxedo, is trying to stifle his anger and frustration as a large lump of lasagna rolls off the side of his head. The man’s indignant wife says to the waiter in a calm, controlled, yet icy voice, “Just wait ‘till Duncan Hines hears about this!”¹


  8. 2 Out West
    (pp. 18-26)

    Late in 1898 Duncan Hines’s health began to fail. He had developed “a slight wheeze” and later discovered he was suffering from asthma. “The cure for all respiratory ailments was, at that time, thought to be a move to a dry, mountainous area.” After a conference with his father it was decided he should move out west immediately, lest his condition worsen.65Consequently, he left Bowling Green Business College without a diploma. By the standards of the day, however, two years was considered by many to be the near equivalent of a full college education. Although he had to forego...

  9. 3 Florence
    (pp. 27-32)

    Though only a relief man with Wells Fargo, Hines’s gregarious personality enabled him to meet the “right” people in Cheyenne society. In 1902, Hines was invited by one of his friends, Bob Carey, son of the former U S Senator, to spend his vacation with him on his father’s enormous cattle ranch.87During his short stay, Hines and his young host got into all sorts of trouble. One day the two young men decided to follow on horseback a Native burial party across the Wyoming range, all the while “gathering up the cigarettes that the Indians had put along the...

  10. 4 Chicago
    (pp. 33-47)

    Duncan Hines and Florence Chaffin married on 27 September 1905,106at Fort Slocum in New Rochelle, New York, in Col. Richard H. Wilson’s quarters.107Florence’s older sister, Grace, wrote a few years after Duncan and Florence were wed: “The biggest event of our stay [in New Rochelle] was... [Florence’s] marriage.... The wedding took place in our living room one afternoon. The ceremony was conducted by the post chaplain.... Then [Florence] left us to live in Chicago.”108

    Why Hines and Florence chose Chicago as their new home is unknown. Nor is it known why he chose to work in the advertising...

  11. 5 Leave Me Alone Or I’ll Publish A Book!
    (pp. 48-55)

    As people across America were tacking up their January 1936 calendars, Hines kept receiving more letters from people who wanted a copy of his restaurant list. “We got hundreds of requests for cards from people we had never heard of,” he later recalled. “It made me realize that we had done something that had never before been tried in this country— because there were no authoritative and unbiased guides to good eating. I felt that I could perform a real service to the public by giving them an appreciation of fine food and telling them where they could get a...

  12. 6 The Dinner Detectives
    (pp. 56-63)

    With each passing week the postcards Hines had provided for his readers poured into his office in growing numbers, each giving him new restaurant leads to investigate. The task of trying to organize this mass of information eventually became overwhelming. By early 1937 Hines realized he had to rely on others of like taste and temperament if he were to investigate all leads that came across his desk; the job of inspecting every potential restaurant that met his criterion had become too large an endeavor for one man. To tackle this problem, he recruited friends who shared his opinions on...

  13. 7 Florence Hines’s Last Year
    (pp. 64-82)

    Sometime in 1937 Florence Hines went to the doctor and was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. A Christian Scientist,210she sought no surgery for her troubles and accepted her coming demise as part of the natural order of God’s world. Evidence shows, however, that the last year of her life was not spent in agony on a couch or in a bed. Surviving hotel receipts indicate that she accompanied her husband wherever he went, and their travels were frequent and extensive. The final months of Florence’s life was one in which no expense was spared. The moments Hines shared with his...

  14. 8 Those Who Make Us Wish For Hollow Legs
    (pp. 83-98)

    Book publishers knocking on Hines’s door was only the beginning. For Duncan Hines theSaturday Evening Postarticle was his life’s seminal event. Overnight he was transformed from a small–time book-publisher into America’s most authoritative voice on the best places to eat. In a very short time he was an American celebrity. He was in demand to give talks and make appearances before audiences of all kinds. The public’s regard for him and what he had to say was so high that his sphere of influence eventually extended well beyond recommending restaurants. The only explanation that can account for...

  15. 9 Back Home Again In Bowling Green
    (pp. 99-107)

    In early December 1938, Duncan Hines sent a note to his secretary, counseling her not to become too depressed over the tremendous amount of work she was suddenly facing. He wrote:

    It is possible that we may have the newLodging[guidebooks] ready by February 15, but I am not yet certain about doing it so quickly. I like the way you have handled things during my absence. I never worry about business. All any of us can do is to be loyal & do the best we can. Then if things do not turn out right, worry won’t help a...

  16. 10 Life Changes
    (pp. 109-121)

    Lodging for a Night,first released in 1938, was an outgrowth ofAdventures in Good Eating.This guidebook, while not as popular as its predecessor, was just as vital. It was prepared in response to his readers’ many requests that there be a companion volume toAdventures in Good Eating.T. C. Dedman, owner of the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, knew Hines well. His inn was always listed in both of Hines’s guidebooks as an excellent place to eat and sleep. “He was very important to us,” said Dedman, speaking of Hines’s influence on his industry.

    Of course, you...

  17. 11 A Few Pet Peeves
    (pp. 122-139)

    The nation’s media organs continued to give Hines’s restaurant guide very favorable reviews. One Chicago columnist wrote that he had seen a “notable change” in American restaurants—for the better. Some of this, he believed, “must be credited to Mr. Duncan Hines, whose bookAdventures in Good Eatingseems to be carried by an astonishing number of tourists.”355A reviewer in the NashvilleBannerexamined Hines’s eating and lodging guides and closed her appraisal with the question, “What did people do before Duncan Hines made motoring easy and pleasant?”356

    In January 1940, Hines and Emelie moved from their cramped, downtown...

  18. 12 The War Years
    (pp. 140-151)

    As Americans adjusted to a war economy a few short months after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Hines published the 1942 edition ofAdventures in Good Eating. With the nation in domestic chaos, he was not sure how well the book would do financially. He expected the worst. What happened at first, however, surprised him. All three books sold more copies during April and May 1942 than they had the entire previous year. “No doubt,” Hines observed, this was “brought about by the fact that defense workers and their families are now using my books when they...

  19. 13 Clara
    (pp. 152-163)

    When Emelie left Hines, she let him fend for himself. As had been the case after Florence’s death, without a woman about the house he was rendered somewhat helpless, and his family knew it. To compensate for his loss, someone from his family—Porter or his children—went to his house almost every evening he was in town to cook supper for him. He did not like to drive after dark, so it was more convenient for him to stay home and have his family keep him company than to drive into town toward dusk and risk a traffic accident....

  20. 14 Let’s Watch Him Eat
    (pp. 164-178)

    Hines had a considerable influence on the fortunes of many establishments offering lodging to travelers. His files contained many letters from proprietors whose businesses had literally been saved from bankruptcy thanks to a listing inLodging for a Night. One elderly architect who invested his life’s savings in a Massachusetts lodge known as the Cape Cod Inn wrote Hines, “I was about to close my doors when a stream of guests appeared like the robins. They all carried the Duncan Hines books under their arms. You certainly saved our lives.” Had it not been for his penchant for “exceptional inns...

  21. 15 Enter Roy Park
    (pp. 179-197)

    Over the years Hines had turned down hundreds of schemes promising to make him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. If only he would willingly allow his name to be used to endorse this or that product, he was told, fabulous riches were his for the asking. He readily retorted to such blandishments that he was already rich—certainly wealthy enough to satisfy his needs. He had everything he could possibly want. And with those words he shooed them away with the back of his hand. Roy Park had better luck.

    Roy Hampton Park was born on a large, family–owned...

  22. 16 The World Of Duncan Hines
    (pp. 198-204)

    In September 1949 Hines and Clara took another extensive dining tour of New York City. With his guidebook’s sales office in New York becoming increasingly busy, the two made a convenient excuse to visit it and indulge themselves in that city’s extensive restaurant cuisine. As usual, they lodged in the Waldorf–Astoria hotel. After visiting the sales office and its manager Frank Watts, they were off to the restaurants. When reporters learned of Hines’s arrival in their city, they cornered him for an impromptu press conference that evening. Hines, never one to turn down publicity, told the press about his...

  23. 17 The Office Life
    (pp. 205-221)

    By 1951 Duncan Hines had, as the cliché goes, “too many irons in the fire.” When he turned seventy–one in March, he knew he was not immortal. He no doubt wondered what Clara’s future would hold should he suddenly pass away. With this thought hanging about the periphery of his consciousness, he began to probe into the possibility of finding someone to take over his book publishing business. He wanted someone in whom he could have complete trust, someone who would make the decisions he made, someone who would continue to promote his business as he did. Although he...

  24. 18 Passing the Torch
    (pp. 222-234)

    One of the many companies licensed to sell Duncan Hines products was Nebraska Consolidated Mills, Inc. The company was primarily a flour milling operation with little experience in consumer marketing. That quickly changed. Under the able leadership of Allan Mactier, the company’s ambitious 32-year-old president,607Nebraska Consolidated worked out a satisfactory franchise agreement with Roy Park to sell flour–based products. A few months after the contract was signed, the small milling company began producing sixteen different kinds of cake and specialty mixes.608Headquartered in Omaha, the company operated mills in four Nebraska cities, and one in Decatur, Alabama. After...

  25. 19 Duncan Hines Goes to Europe
    (pp. 235-248)

    In the spring of 1954 Hines and Clara went to Europe for the first time, accompanied by their close friend, Nelle Palmer, the operator of the Lowell Inn in Stillwater, Minnesota.643It was a “just for fun” trip, Hines told reporters as he prepared for his excursion,644adding that he was not going to spend his time hanging around “crumbling castles or stuffy museums.” Instead, he said, “I want to see everything that is new and modern, including a few watch factories in Switzerland!”645He and Clara took a train from Bowling Green to New York City, where they were...

  26. 20 We Dedicate This Box…
    (pp. 249-259)

    In 1955 the Duncan Hines Institute published two volumes. The first was Duncan Hines’ Dessert Book, a collection of Hines’s favorite after–dinner recipes; it was followed later in the year by the ever–so–slightly autobiographical Duncan Hines’ Food Odyssey.690The Dessert Book was a standard paperback book. As was Adventures in Good Cooking, the Dessert Book was compiled from recipes submitted by restaurants and Hines’s many friends and family members. As was the case with the older book, blank areas were filled with household hints, suggestions, admonitions, and an assortment of Duncan Hines homilies. The book contained a...

  27. 21 Aftermath
    (pp. 260-266)

    Duncan Hines’s body remained at his home until about an hour before his funeral. The funeral services commenced at 2:00 P.M. on 17 March 1959, at the Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green.733After the service had been performed, he was laid to rest next to his siblings in Bowling Green’s Fairview Cemetery.734One month later, Hines’s estate was probated in Warren County court. According to the terms of his will, Clara was named executrix of his estate and was notified that he left her an estate worth $25,000.735

    On the occasion of his death, Hines was remembered for his...

  28. Notes
    (pp. 267-298)
  29. Bibliography
    (pp. 299-318)
  30. Index
    (pp. 319-325)
  31. Back Matter
    (pp. 326-326)