For years, you've invited these folks into your kitchen—they're food icons that feel like family. But were they real people, or just from the imagination of some creative Mad Men?


Dorothy Lynch got her start in the 1940s at a small-town Nebraska restaurant, where locals brought their own jugs to fill with her tangy salad dressing.

Thank goodness there was a real Chef Boyardee. In 1928, Italian immigrant Hector Boiardi and his brothers began packaging pasta dishes for home cooks under an easier-to-read version of their name.

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Marie Callender sold the family car to launch her pie business in California. The coffee shop she opened in 1964 blossomed into a restaurant chain, and she eventually brought home-cooked happiness to the grocery aisle with her frozen meals and desserts.

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When home cooks flooded Gold Medal flour with letters after a 1921 contest, Betty Crocker was created to "write" responses to them. She's been baking someone happy through cooking schools, radio and television programs, and cookbooks ever since.

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His name really was Orville Redenbacher. The bow-tied, bespectacled pitchman began growing his own popping corn at age 12, and was fixated on developing fluffier popcorn ever since. His obsession led to the launch of a business, and Redenbacher began starring in commercials in 1976.

In the 1940s, executives of a company with the snoozer name Converted Rice Inc. gave it personal appeal by rechristening it Uncle Ben's. The name paid tribute to a respected African-American rice farmer known for the quality of his rice. The picture on the packaging, though, depicts a Chicago maître d' named Frank Brown.

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With her kerchief and broad smile, Aunt Jemima—a stereotype of an antebellum domestic servant—started selling ready-to-make pancake mix in the late 1800s. She had a makeover in 1989, trading in the bandana for pearl earrings and soft curls.

In 1949, baker Charlie Lubin named his new line of cheesecakes for his 8-year-old daughter, Sara Lee. Sara Lee used her family inheritance to start a foundation supporting women interested in science.