Dairy icon heads to Smithsonian

WASHINGTON – In a special ceremony June 5, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History received a collection of personal memorabilia documenting the Borden Company’s participation in the 1939 New York World’s Fair in commemoration of Borden’s 150th anniversary.
The donation includes yearbooks, photographs, personal scrapbooks and other materials.
A selection of the Borden-related collection will be on temporary display in the museum’s Treasures of American History exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum beginning July 12.
The Borden Boys. Jim Cavanaugh of Columbus, Ohio; Chester Steen of Walla Walla, Wash.; and Herbert Petree of Vienna, Va., were among the 60 “Borden Boys” – young agriculture and dairy college students recruited to handle the 150 cows at the Borden pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, The Dairy World of Tomorrow.
The exhibit was designed as a showcase for the most modern, sanitary methods used in the dairy industry. These young men cared for the animals, kept careful statistics on milk production and demonstrated dairy operations to the public.
The three men once again accompanied “Elsie the Cow” to a major event, this time in the nation’s capital.
‘Something special.’ “Back then, Elsie was a sensation, and we knew we were a part of something special and wanted to preserve our memories,” said Cavanaugh, who helped select the first “real” Elsie after visitors to the World’s Fair inquired as to which of the cows was the one featured in the company’s advertisements.
Cavanaugh is also credited as a driving force in maintaining contact with the first Borden Boys throughout the ensuing years. Today, only nine men from the original group are still living.
The donation is the combined personal collections of these individuals.
“The Borden brand and Elsie have not only played major roles in popular culture and advertising in American history, but they also reflect the importance of the development of the dairy industry,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History.
Which one’s Elsie? At the World’s Fair, Borden soon discovered that although impressed with the technology on display, most visitors really wanted to know which animal was Elsie, a fictional cow featured in the company’s recent advertisements.
An especially sweet-dispositioned Jersey was swiftly identified as Elsie and introduced to the public. She became the focus of the exhibit, where she and her calf Beulah lived in a luxury stall with framed “portraits” of her ancestors on the wall.
Due to her immense popularity at the fair, the Borden Company made Elsie its primary advertising icon, a role she still plays today.
The Borden materials will be added to the museum’s archives center collections, supplementing existing collections related to the 1939 World’s Fair as well as advertising history.
150-year-old brand. Gail Borden created the Borden brand in 1857, when he established the nation’s first milk condensery in Burrville, Conn.
A team of artists introduced Elsie in the late 1930s as part of a project to find a trademark animal for Borden. Through a licensing agreement in 1997, Elsie and Borden Cheese became part of the Dairy Farmers of America, a producer-owned dairy marketing cooperative and food company.
The National Museum of American History is closed for major renovations and will re-open in summer 2008, which is why the initial exhibit of the Borden materials will be in the Air and Space Museum.
Other materials donated. In addition to the Smithsonian donation, a scrapbook compiled by and including handwritten notes by Borden founder Gail Borden was donated to the New York Historical Society June 7.
Gail Borden is the “Father of the Modern Dairy Industry” and inventor of condensed milk. A portrait of Borden on a metal printing plate was also presented.
The real Elsie the Cow, America’s beloved mascot, joined company and museum officials for a presentation ceremony.
Following the dedication, Elsie indulged in a special birthday cake made with some of her favorite ingredients – coarse feed, Blackstrap molasses, hay and fresh flowers.
Accompanying Elsie (who travels in a 40-foot “cowdillac” trailer) were her handlers, along with 90-year-old Jim Cavanaugh, one of the original “Borden Boys.”
Donor. Alexander Hoyt, whose family owns the original John Gail Borden homestead and 100 acres of the famous Borden Home Farm in Wallkill, N.Y., donated the items to the historical society.
The scrapbook was only recently discovered, while the tin portrait was found many years ago, just after the Hoyt family purchased the homestead and 100 acres of the famous Borden Home Farm in 1950.
“Gail Borden founded one of the most enduring brands in American history and we felt it important that this personal scrapbook showcasing his thoughts and interests be preserved appropriately,” said Alexander Hoyt.

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