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Sun-Maid Raisin Girl goes to Hollywood

 

We all know her face; we see her more often than most of our own extended family. She’s a face we’ve come to trust and one we associate with being wholesome. But do you know who she is? Do you know where she came from?

It may come as a surprise to some, but the Sun-Maid raisin girl is an actual person — not just an illustration created by an ad firm to sell dried grapes. Her name was Lorraine Collett Petersen and she found herself on the cover of raisin boxes across the country because a raisin executive was infatuated with her image.

Petersen was working as a seeder and packer when one day, while drying her curly black hair, raisin exec Leroy Payne stumbled upon her and thought she had the perfect face for Sun-Maid. Petersen was hired to hand out free samples of raisins at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and later even dropped them from airplanes over San Francisco. In 1915, Payne had Petersen pose for a water color painting — by Fanny Scafford — while holding a fresh basket of grapes, sealing her fate as the Sun-Maid girl (see an image of the original logo below, on the right).

According to the Sun-Maid site, Petersen was first outfitted in a blue bonnet (not the iconic red), but once seen in her mother’s red bonnet, they changed the official outfit thanks to the insistence of a raisin exec’s wife. Petersen was given the watercolor and sunbonnet by Sun-Maid, and she kept them in her home until she passed in 1983. Her red bonnet was later donated to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

With the help of Petersen’s image, America’s consumption of raisins tripled by the end of the 1920s. Since the original water-color portrait, the Sun-Maid girl’s image has been revised a handful of times. Her latest revision, as an animated computer graphic, seems to have created quite a stir.

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