Vintage Ad: Bite-Sized Bread Model

The story behind the Sunbeam girl.

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In 1942, Quality Bakers of America commissioned artist Ellen Segner to develop an identity for their new Sunbeam Bread. She was a good choice — a well-known illustrator who had painted all the characters in the iconic 1950s Dick and Jane books.

Marilyn Kille remembers modeling for the Miss Sunbeam character when she was 5. She recalls being intimidated by the photographer who kept disappearing beneath the black hood of his studio camera. She was placed on a tall stool and directed to take a slice of bread from a tray on her left. She was to then take one bite from a specified corner and, the photograph taken, let it fall into a trash bin on her right.

Vintage Sunbeam Bread ad featuring the girl biting a piece of bread
A Sunbeam Bread ad that ran in the Post’s May 23, 1953 issue. (Click to see a larger version.)

She followed the instruction but grew agitated the longer the session continued. Tears welled up in her eyes and soon ran down her face. Everything stopped. When the staff asked her what was wrong, she wouldn’t answer. The photographer decided he had enough photos and called an end to the session.

If you were a child in those years, you might remember being admonished never to waste food; there were “children starving in China,” after all. Taking those warnings to heart, Kille was crying because of the growing pile of discarded bread. She would surely be punished for wasting food and depriving all those hungry Chinese children.

This article is featured in the September/October 2020 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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Comments

  1. Ms. Segner really was the perfect illustrator for this child. I’m sorry little Marilyn began crying during the photo session, but it’s perfectly understandable. Had it not gone on as long, she may not have. She was raised right about not being wasteful, and it got to her. I can’t say I wouldn’t have either.

    There’s something very appealing about illustrated ads that photography can’t capture. Sometimes it does, but overall not as much. From auto ads featuring smiling people interacting with it, to a child selling bread, it’s a charming aspect of a bygone U.S. in much simpler, non-rushed, happier times.

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