Guess whose birthday celebration includes Betty Crocker and the Lone Ranger


If they'd had a red carpet, it might've been stepped on by anyone from the Pillsbury Doughboy to Bullwinkle J. Moose.

But instead General Mills celebrated its 150th anniversary Friday evening with the citizens of its home town, rolling its birthday event into the Stone Arch Bridge Festival in the part of Minneapolis that –like General Mills – started with flour mills and grew into much more.

General Mills has a good overview of its history on its website. And it's not just General Mills' history. 15 years ago the company bought its main rival, Pillsbury, and added their long history in Minneapolis to the corporate archive.

Actually, as archives go this one looks pretty fun. A 50-second video provides a glimpse:

General Mills was still known as Washburn Crosby when it used the radio station it owned – WCCO – to introduce listeners to Betty Crocker.

"The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air" was broadcast for 27 years before it moved to television. WCCO reports listeners could even graduate from the cooking school. In those early days Betty was widely thought to be a real person and she received plenty of mail including four or five marriage proposals per week, a General Mills spokesman tells the station.

TV shows owned by their sponsors

When television was young in the 1950s, companies like General Mills sometimes not only sponsored but owned TV shows, the New York Times notes.

General Mills brought the Lone Ranger to the radio in 1941 and continued sponsoring the show through 1957, when it had transitioned to television.

The masked man returned the favor by letting everyone know what cereal he ate.

Later, "Rocky and Friends" and its successor "The Bullwinkle Show" also gave General Mills chances to weave promotions into television shows (Bullwinkle's hometown was Frostbite Falls, Minnesota).

In the 1960s General Mills moved beyond the food industry by purchasing toy companies, Twin Cities Business reports.

Apart from Betty Crocker's Easy Bake Oven, it owned the companies that established the Nerf ball, Care Bears, and Play Doh.

But these days General Mills is focused on its roots in the food industry, which have made it a $17 billion a year company. That should allow it to bake a cake big enough for 150 candles.

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