The brand got its name from the minstrel song “Old Aunt Jemima,” which was composed by African American comedian and performer Billy Kersands. Chris Rutt, who created the pancake flour in 1889, was inspired by the song after hearing it during a minstrel performance and decided to give the name to his pancake flour. At the time, Aunt Jemima was seen as a “mammy” character, a racial stereotype of a slave happy to please her white masters.
Rutt then sold his company to a larger milling company, R.T. Davis Milling Co., after failing to sell the flour. The milling company brought its mix to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and hired Nancy Green, a former slave who was working as a cook for a judge, to act as Aunt Jemima and sell the pancake flour.
“This began a really long tradition of women being Aunt Jemima in public performance,” said Maurice M. Manring, author of “Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima.” “Aunt Jemima became a national brand advertising nationally.”
Manring added that the fame of the brand Aunt Jemima coincided with the explosion of advertising during World War I. The brand created a whole backstory for Aunt Jemima giving her a fictional family and creating made up events about her life.