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The History of Boxed Cake Mix

Boxed cake mix was introduced to the United States during the Great Depression. John D. Duff of P. Duff and Sons, a Pittsburgh-based molasses company, was searching for a way to use up his company’s extra molasses. He dehydrated it and then added a mixture of flour, sugar, and dried egg. He ended up with a powered mixture allowed home cooks to make gingerbread by simply adding water and baking the resulting batter. Since families were in need of simple, inexpensive baked goods to enjoy, Duff’s creation was quickly embraced. During World War II, most manufacturing was devoted to Homefront essentials or feeding the troops. But after the war, cake mixes took off. Betty Crocker (named after a fictional character created to respond to the influx of baking questions the company received) began selling cake mixes in 1947. In 1948, Pillsbury launched the first boxed chocolate cake mix. And by 1951, Duncan Hines had begun selling boxed cake mixes, too. Curiously, boxed cake mix sales slowed in the mid-1950s. General Mills employed Ernest Dichter, a psychologist and marketing specialist, to find out why. Dichter discovered that women were feeling guilty and as if they weren’t doing enough. In response, boxed cake companies began running advertisements encouraging women to think of boxed cake mix as just one step in the process of baking. They emphasized the importance of decorating as a way of personalizing the cake and putting in extra effort. The move was successful and boxed cake mixes lived on. Today, boxed cake mix is available in a wide range of flavors and remains quite popular; in fact, it is estimated that over 186 million Americans used boxed cake mix in 2020.

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