Elsie started her life as a cartoon cow, and then she became a Real Cow. This is sort of like how Pinocchio went from being a puppet to being a Real Boy, or how the velveteen rabbit became a Real Rabbit.
Anyway, if you have ever had any Borden milk to drink, you have probably seen a picture of Elsie on the label. Elsie is the advertising mascot for Borden, and she has become even more well-known than the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Campbell twins or Tony the Tiger.
The reason why Elsie was created was that the Borden Company was trying to convince people that processed milk was safer to drink than milk that went straight from the cow to the market. The Department of Agriculture had told everybody all the way back in 1907 that dairy cows often carried tuberculosis and other diseases because of unsanitary conditions on farms. When the Borden Company bought a dairy farm in New Jersey the 1930s, they were one of the first dairies to install pasteurization equipment.
After that, they needed to do an advertising campaign to tell everybody that processed milk was safer to drink. So a man named Walter Early drew a happy, friendly-looking cow who wrote letters home. The letters said things like, "Dear Mama, I'm so excited I can hardly chew! We girls are sending our milk to Borden's now. Love Elsie."
At the New York World's Fair in 1939, Borden's exhibit was something called a "Rotolactor," which showed how they expected their industry to look in the future. The theme of the Fair was World of Tomorrow, so that's why Borden's had this type of exhibit. The Rotolactor was a large turntable with several milking stations, and cows moving on and off of it.
Lots of people came to see the exhibit, and the question that got asked most often was "Which cow is Elsie?" So the Borden Company realized they needed one particular cow who could be the Real Elsie. They ended up picking out a Jersey cow who had been born at the Elm Hill Farm in Brookfield, MA in 1932. The original name of this cow was "You'll Do, Lobelia," but of course her name got changed to "Elsie."
The Borden spokescow got lots of publicity. There were public appearances, press dinners in NY, and Elsie even got into movies. Sadly, in 1941, while she was traveling to NYC, the 18-wheeler that Elsie was riding in got hit from behind by another truck. Elsie suffered neck and spine injuries, and nothing could be done for her. She was buried on the Gordon Walker farm where she lived.
At the time of the original Elsie's death, there were already some other cows who could fill the role when necessary, so there has always been an Elsie somewhere. In 1940, Elmer the Bull was created to be Elsie's mate, and he became the mascot for Elmer's Glue. The pair had four calves: Beulah and Beauregard in 1948, and Larabee and Lobelia in 1957.
Elsie has been bestowed several honorary university degrees, including Doctor of Bovinity, Doctor of Human Kindness, and Doctor of Ecownomics. The Seneca people named her an honorary chief, and the City of Bridgeport, CT, gave her the P.T. Barnum Award of Showmanship.
Mom found this postcard that shows Elsie, Elmer, and Beauregard hanging out at home. Elmer (left) has a chair made of wagon wheels with barrel staves for rockers. Elsie has a dressing table constructed from barrels and lit by milk bottle lamps. Her cosmetics include Meadow Mud Pack, Tail Wave Set, and Henna Fur Glaze. The mirror is a frying pan. Elsie made the sampler over the mantel when she was just a heifer. Books in the breakfront include The Farmer with Cold Hands, Animal Husbandry and Wifery, and Bulliver's Travels. The floor lamp is an old churn, and the candlesticks are corn.
Besides postcards, you can find lots of other Elsie collectibles on eBay and such places. And guess what! Elsie even has her own Facebook page!