More than you ever wanted to know …

Their names are Elsie and Leon …

To hear my Mother tell the story, she was about 10 years old when her family traveled to Beaumont, Texas to visit Aunt Bertha and Uncle Curtis. While they were all out shopping, her father saw this salt and pepper shaker set and bought it as a gift for Aunt Bertha to add to her extensive collection of salt and pepper shakers. At that time, a contest was going on to choose the name of Elsie’s calf. (Does this sound familiar to some of you? If it does, you’re showing your age … and I love it!)  Well, it was decided (I forget by whom … I think Aunt Bertha) that this cow and calf shaker set would be named Elsie (for obvious reasons) and Leon (in honor of my Mother’s father). Fast forward a bunch of years to when Aunt Bertha died. Uncle Curtis gave this set to my grandfather (because he gave it to Aunt Bertha) and years later my Granddaddy gave it to my Mother … who has now had it 30+ years … and has always called it Elsie and Leon.

HUH? Did you get all that? Really, though … does it sound like stories your family tells?  (Be honest!) Perhaps a little rambling … and confusing … and wonderfully endearing?

After all these years — thanks to Pink Saturday! — I decided to see what I could learn about Elsie and Leon. I learned a lot. I’m going to share it with you … probably more than you ever wanted to know about a cow.

Here’s everything I can tell you about my family’s now much-loved vintage salt and pepper set. It’s marked Japan. There’s another barely visible marking that no one can read. One of the cork stoppers is “lost” inside. Crazing is evident.


Ah, but there’s more to tell about Elsie … the REAL Elsie. There is no real Leon — except my Granddaddy who was very real, but he’s not part of the cow story.  (Are you still with me?)

Long before Joe Camel, the Energizer Bunny, or Tony the Tiger … there was Elsie. She was created during the milk wars of the 1930s to symbolize the “perfect dairy product.” Quickly gaining favor with the populace, the two-dimensional drawing seen regularly in magazines and newspapers mooooooved further into the limelight … and fan mail poured in.

It was at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 that Elsie began to “come to life.” The Borden company’s exhibit featured a large glass-enclosed early version of a milking machine — and 150 Jersey cows. It seems there were three types of questions asked at the exhibit: 20% of them related to the Borden machinery, 20% involved the location of restrooms, and 60% wanted to know which cow was Elsie. In fairy-tale style, Borden corporate asked, “who’s the fairest of them all” … and their friendliest, most beautiful Jersey cow with the big brown eyes (whose name was You’ll Do Lobelia) became known as Elsie — and made her grand appearance at the 1940 World’s Fair.

Lest you think this is the end of the story, oh think again. The Borden company milked the story for all it was worth, and in 1940 Elsie married Elmer the Bull who later became the famed mascot of Elmer’s Glue. Recognize him?

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In 1942, Elsie and Elmer became proud parents of Beulah, introducing her to the world at an encore performance at the New York World’s Fair. Then in 1947 they added a little bull calf to the family. (This is where my Mother’s story comes in — and we see that she was actually only 6 years old rather than 10.) Elsie, with extreme gratitude to her fans, decided to have a contest to let them choose the name of her firstborn son. Upon receiving more than one million entries, the calf was named Beauregard.

It seems to me that a nice tidy family of four would be a good place to stop, but life is full of surprises, and in 1957 when her youngest was 10 years old, Elsie announced that twins were on the way! The calf-naming contest had been so udderly popular before, so Elsie and Elmer allowed fans to send in their favorite names once again. This time over three million entries were received. When the big announcement was made, fans learned that the two precious little twin calves were named Larabee and Lobelia.

 Borden’s Elsie the Cow
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In those early days of stardom, Elsie was the perfect wife and mother while still managing to lead a life full of special performances, television commercials, a full-length movie, and even a guest appearance at Disney World. The bovine beauty really was the model for salt and pepper shaker sets (just not the one in our family) and other now-vintage collectibles.

Her smile can still be seen on dairy products today … and for many, her smile brings memories of a much less hurried time in America’s past.

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Elsie is a lovely creature,

In every graceful line and feature,

But always from her upturned nose,

The slightest bit of moisture flows,

You’d think that after licking salt,

She’d realize this social fault,

But, no, not Elsie — ‘neath her hide,

She’s just another cow inside!

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I’m joining Pink Saturday at How Sweet the Sound


  1. Susan, this is just a wonderful story! I always loved Elsie, and for some reason I remember Beuregard and not the twins. Not sure why. I had forgotten Elmer was married to Elsie. LOL! But I am quite familiar with both. This really was a neat post, and what fun for you to have that cute salt and pepper shaker that has been fun for generations of your family, too. Your cows (Elsie and Leon) are so cute!

    Thanks for all the work that went into this post. Enjoyed it!


    Sheila 🙂

  2. Love this – I remember Elsie!!

  3. Great post and great history of your little S&P. I so remember Elsie and many of the TV and print ad icons of the past 🙂


  4. I started following you a few weeks ago and just noticed you sell vintage linens. I just started collecting marghab linens, which I love. Do you ever sell them?
    Your post was enjoyable to read and I love the images you posted.
    Happy pink saturday,

  5. Hello
    such a lovely story. Enjoyed that so much.
    Greetings, Johanna

  6. CareyAnn, I’m so happy to have you following and hope you enjoy your visits! Yes, I occasionally do sell Marghab (and Madeira) linens. I’ll send you an email with more details. Thanks for your interest.

  7. Susan,

    I remember the song that was on the commercials…”I’m Elsie the cow, and I’m telling you now for good health, good milk is required.”

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  8. How cute — what a great story about the little S&P and the story behind them. I do remember Elsie the cow — just none of the rest of them.

  9. Very nice. That is one of the best Elsie historical reviews I have seen.