Who Is Libby Behind Libby's Pumpkin?

It's probably not who you're expecting.

Libby's Pumpkin
Photo: Allrecipes

When you think of fall, what's the first thing that comes to your mind? For us, it's pumpkins. Big, orange squash that you are so vertatile — you can carve them into Jack-o'-lanterns, use them as decor, and, of course, add them into recipes to make dozens upon dozens of delicious creations.

There's one brand that's synonymous with cooking and baking with pumpkin, and that's Libby's Pumpkin. In fact, Libby's makes 95% of the world's canned pumpkin. But who is the face behind the number one canned pumpkin in the United States? Who is Libby?

Who is Libby of Libby's Pumpkin?

Libby's story actually dates back even further than the company itself. So, to understand who Libby is, you first need to understand where the pumpkins come from.

It All Started With a Seed

The pumpkin used in Libby's canned pumpkin is called a Dickinson pumpkin. These pumpkins, which were first grown by Elijah Dickinson, are different from the traditional orange pumpkin (aka field pumpkin) you're probably thinking of. Dickinson pumpkins are beige and have a smooth exterior — they don't have the ribbings like field pumpkins.

"That's actually a good thing because they taste much better and they have a much better texture than your average Jack-o'-lantern," says Kristin Mitchell, the manager of brand marketing for Libby's. "They kind of have a homely exterior to some degree, but what's most beautiful about them is what's inside: that thick orange flesh."

And, yes, canned pumpkin is made from pumpkins.

Elijah Dickinson began growing and canning his Dickinson pumpkins in Morton, Illinois — now referred to as the "Pumpkin Capital of the World." In 1929, Dickinson sold his pumpkin-packing company, Dickinson & Co., to another company: Libby, McNeil & Libby.

Libby Enters the Pumpkin Scene

Libby, McNeil & Libby was founded in 1868 by Archibald McNeil and brothers Arthur and Charles Libby. The company started in the meat-packing industry packaging canned meat. They later expanded their canning operations to fruits and vegetables — including canned pumpkin, but not the pumpkin we know as Libby's today.

"We know the Libby's brand was selling pumpkin under its label as early as 1924. They were more than likely using pumpkins grown out of California," says Mitchell. "Around this time, there was, what was referred to as, an abundance of Midwestern agriculture. As a result, the company did purchase Dickinson & Co."

The purchase included the pumpkin-packing plant in Morton, which is where Libby's Pumpkin is still produced to this day.

Eventually, the company name Libby, McNeil & Libby was shortened to simply Libby's. And today, the brand is owned by Nestlé.

So, no, Libby isn't a sweet grandmother who invented the ideal pumpkin purée for her pie. But, the story of Libby's famous pumpkin pie recipe does introduce another character, after all: Mary Hale Martin.

Libby's Pumpkin Historic Packaging
Courtesy of Nestle

Pumpkin Pie, The Libby's Way

In the 1920s, Libby, McNeil & Libby wanted to share new ways to use its products. To do this, the company created a Home Economics Department where chefs and scientists developed recipes. It was there the famous pumpkin pie was born.

Today, the pumpkin pie recipe is proudly displayed on every single can of Libby's. But, it wasn't always like that.

The recipe was first promoted by someone named Mary Hale Martin in the cookbook, My Best Recipes. However, it turns out Martin wasn't actually a real person. She was actually a "mascot" invented by Libby's to advertise its pumpkin pie recipe. The recipe included store-bought crust and a can of Libby's — its simplicity made it an instant hit.

Later on, the Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie recipe we know and love today — made with a store-bought crust, evaporated milk, sugar, eggs, and spices — was added to the label. The earliest known appearance was in 1934, and then in 2019, the brand introduced a second recipe on the label for Libby's New Fashioned Pumpkin Pie. In a partnership with Carnation, the new-fashioned pie replaces the sugar with a can of sweetened condensed milk.

No matter if you use one of Libby's pie recipes, or another pumpkin recipe, it's nearly impossible to get through autumn without adding a can (or many cans) of Libby's Pumpkin to your pantry. You're not alone either; every year Libby's sells enough cans to make 90 million pumpkin pies, proving there really is no way quite like the Libby way.

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