(Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Chances are you may not know the name Ann Turner Cook. But you probably know her face.
Cook’s now-iconic visage has been used to sell billions of jars of Gerber baby food over the last 90 years. The now-retired high school creative writing and literature teacher and a prolific mystery novelist was only 4 months old when she was immortalized by the family’s close personal friend and neighbor, artist Dorothy Hope Smith. The Gerber baby turned 95 on Nov. 20, 2021.
(James Keyser/Getty Image)
Using a photograph of Cook, Smith sketched the angelic baby in charcoal. In 1928, she entered the drawing in Fremont Canning Company’s nationwide competition to find the face of their baby food campaign. The company, which ultimately was called Gerber, was owned by Frank Gerber.
When Smith submitted a more-or-less basic illustration for the contest, in her mind it was unfinished. She intended to make it more complete if selected and stated so in her entry. Yet, despite the fact that that there were more elaborate images, like oil paintings, the judges were smitten with the simple sketch. Smith was reportedly awarded $300. However, in the early 1950s, Gerber compensated Cook and she was able to put a downpayment on a modest house and buy a car.
First seen in Good Housekeeping in 1928, the image was so beloved, by 1931 it became the official trademark of Gerber baby food. A staple of the brand, the Gerber Baby has appeared on all Gerber packaging and in every Gerber advertisement ever since. According to Gerber, the baby’s identity was a secret for over four decades until it was revealed in 1978.
At the time her identity became public, Cook was a teacher at Hillsborough High School in Tampa. As she told Fox 13 news, her students peppered her with endless questions. “And then I would say, ‘Now we won’t talk about this anymore,’ because I didn’t want it to monopolize the time I had with my students,” said Cook, who added that as a mother of four, she loved babies. “There’s nothing I’d rather be than associated with babies.”
Cook, who has a master’s degree in English Education from the University of South Florida, was a beloved creative writing and literature teacher at two Tampa high schools. She taught for 26 years. After retiring, she wrote several mystery novels, including the Brandy O’Bannon series and became a member of the Mystery Writers of America. Cook places her novels in small towns in west Central Florida.