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Elsie the Cow Postcards

I remember being introduced to a live Elsie at a fair when I was quite young. Elsie made a big and lasting impression on me. I was a city girl so I didn't know how real cows lived, and I was young enough to think a "boudoir" was a normal environment for a famous cow.

Elsie the cow first appeared as one of several cartoon cows in medical journal ads for Borden milk in the 1930s. By 1939 she had her own general magazine ads. She was already a well-known marketing symbol when she appeared as a live cow in the dairy exhibit at the New York World's Fair of 1939-40.

The card below, showing Elsie in her boudoir, was mailed from the New York World's Fair Borden exhibit in 1940. The description on the back says "ELSIE, the Borden Cow, in her air conditioned boudoir, surrounded by family keepsakes, pictures of her illustrious ancestors, and all the extra special comforts of her dairy home." Below this description is a message that appears to be typewritten:

"On a recent visit to the World's Fair, I got a chance to go over and see Elsie in her boudoir. Thousands are talking about it as the hit of the fair. I asked them at the Borden Building to send this card to you, with all best wishes."


Elsie the Cow in Her World's Fair Boudoir

Elsie also appeared on a set of five World's Fair cartoon cards that were printed in tones of brown and black and sold for 10 cents a set. These cards are signed by Walter Early, who also created full color artwork of Elsie for magazine ads.

A bull named Elmer was designed as a husband for Elsie in 1940. (Elmer later became the symbol for Elmer's Glue). In 1947 Elsie gave birth to a baby bull, Beauregard, named in honor of Civil War General Beauregard's part in the Battle of Bull Run.

In the photo postcard of Elsie the Cow at the 1948 Wisconsin Centennial Exposition, Elsie is on a four-poster bed and her baby is in a playpen.

The 2-1/2 ton exhibit on the next postcard is "barn colonial," with knotty pine walls, a lantern chandelier, and ears of corn on the bedposts. It has a butter churn floorlamp, wheelbarrow chaise longue, and dressing table with milk bottle lamps. There are oil paintings of Uncle Bosworth in naval uniform and Aunt Bess in bridal veil, Cousin Bart (a top sergeant in WWII), and ancestor Sir Persevere in armor. Books include "Animal Husbandry and Wifery," "How to Live On 5,000 Quarts a Year," and "Adventures of Supercalf." Elsie and Beauregard travel in a cowpalace express car with special quality cowfolks foods.


Elsie's Traveling Boudoir

The family scene on the next card shows Elmer on the left, Elsie on the right, and Beauregard in his playpen. Elmer's chair is made of wheels with barrel staves for rockers. The sampler over the mantel was done by Elsie when she was just a heifer. Elsie's dressing table is made of barrels and has milk bottle lamps. The mirror is a frying pan. Her cosmetics include Tail Wave Set, Henna Fur Glaze and Meadow Mud pack. Books in the breakfront include the Farmer with Cold Hands, Animal Husbandry and Wifery, and Bulliver's Travels. The candle sticks are corn and the floor lamp is an old churn.


Elsie and Family in Person

The next postcard shows Elsie and Beauregard. Elsie is in her spool bed and young Beauregard is in his corral playpen. The Barn Colonial Boudoir is complete with cow-sized furnishings made specially for Elsie and a library with her favorite book. Her cows-metics are displayed on her dressing table.

The next postcard is ©1952 and has the same bed and playben as the previous card. This barn colonial boudoir is complete with barrel chair, butter churn lamp and barnyard clock. Elsie's dressing table is made of a tree trunk, and the mirror above it is made from the radiator of a 1910 Ford. Beauregard's rocking horse has a bridle made of rope and a real western saddle.

Elsie and Beauregard also appear on the next card. Elsie is in her chintz canopied bed and Beauregard is in his playpen corral. Other furnishings include an antique victrola with moo-sic albums, Beauregard's tractor-seat high chair, Elsie's ax and pick easy chair and her ox yoke dressing table, and a pitchfork bookcase holding her books. Elsie's Barn Boudoir is housed within a 35 foot trailer which closes into a compact unit for travel.


Elsie and Beauregard in Person

Elsie's twins Larabee and Lobelia were born in 1957, the year of Borden's 100th anniversary and the date of the next card. The furnishings are similar to those on the previous card. For the twins there is a double sized playpen, a twin-sized bassinet and a two seater rocking horse. Favorite record albums were "Moo-in Over Miami", "Cow Cow Boogie" and "Jersey Bounce." This time Elsie's dressing table was made from her grandmother's milking stanchion.


Elsie and her Twins in Person

In her "hayday" during the 1940s, Elsie was very popular and well known. She appeared in magazine ads for many years, and later appeared in animated TV commercials. Elsie the Cow was voted one of the 10 top advertising icons of the 20th century by Advertising Age magazine.

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revised August, 2012

 



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