Vintage Ads: Elsie: America’s Favorite Cow

The beginnings of Borden's beloved cow mascot.

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Other than the legendary bovine said to have started the Chicago fire, no cow is better known in America than Elsie. And few company mascots have ever been more successful.

Elsie was originally created for a campaign to promote the health benefits of dairy products to doctors. The Elsie ads appeared only in medical journals, but they proved so popular that doctors asked for Elsie posters for their offices.

It wasn’t long before the Borden Dairy Company was inserting Elsie the Cow ads in newspapers. Then, in 1938, a radio announcer read on the air a letter purportedly from Elsie. It proved surprisingly popular and people asked for more. Elsie began receiving fan mail, and her ads soon appeared in popular magazines like the Post.

In 1939, a live “Elsie” was exhibited at the New York’s World’s Fair. She drew such large crowds that Borden sent her, and her calf Beulah, on a cross-country trip to state fairs.

In 1960, she was voted America’s best-known and best-loved trademark. And as recently as 2000, The New York Times was calling her “America’s Cow.” She’s still out there, pitching the brand today. And yes, she has a Facebook page.

The original Borden ad, featuring Elise the Cow
A magazine ad featuring Elise the Cow, published May 3, 1941.(Click to Enlarge)

This article is featured in the July/August 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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