The Real Story of the Gerber Baby
In the summer of 1928, a children’s illustrator named Dorothy Hope Smith, heard about a contest, held by the Freemont Canning Company, to select a picture of a baby for a new product line.
She sent a charcoal drawing, made from a photograph of a neighbor’s daughter, taken at 4 months of age.
Dorothy never intended it to be her final entry, but rather a sample sketch, with a note asking, “Is this what you’re looking for? If so, I can make a more finished version.”
Weeks went by with no reply.
Finally, when the judges had looked at all the entries, they chose her simple sketch, saying they liked it just the way it was.
She was awarded $300 for the rights to the drawing, a lot of money in the 1920’s.
The sketch first appeared on boxes of Gerber’s Cereal Food and became known as the Gerber Baby.
In the ’30s and ’40s, the baby was so popular, the company offered prints for 10 cents each, selling thousands.
As odd as this may sound, a few people even thought the iconic drawing was their child and sued Gerber for invading their privacy!
Dorothy Hope Smith was called to testify for the company at the various trials and hearings. Since there were no model releases in those days, it was Dorothy’s word against the plaintiffs.
Gerber would win each time and after several suits, the company asked the artist for the baby’s name and address in order to get a signed release. (Up until then, Gerber wanted no publicity, wanting for everyone to identify with the baby as their child, boy or girl.)
The baby, now grown up, was Ann Turner Cook. Ann’s husband had just returned from the war and they had little or no money at the time. The compensation by Gerber for her signature gave the grateful couple a helpful start in their married life.
It is interesting to note that, until Gerber sought to find her, Ann Turner Cook, a school teacher at the time, no one knew about her secret claim to fame.
In the countless interviews she has given since, the 94-year-old, most graciously, points out, “It’s not an achievement of mine. It’s an achievement of the artist. Dorothy Hope Smith deserves the credit because she captured the image of a healthy, happy baby. That’s what all mothers hope that their baby will be.”