"Recommended by Duncan Hines" Exhibit

On display at the Kentucky Museum, "Recommended by Duncan Hines" includes 8 sections featuring the life and work of the Bowling Green native. An extensive collection of artifacts are on hand including substantial collections from the Hines family and the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. The exhibit features these artifacts along with state-of the art media tools so visitors will learn about Hines’ career as a writer on travel, dining and entertaining, as well as his transition to a "name brand" icon and pioneer in the world of packaged food.

Take a look at the exhibit by watching our Virtual Tours on the Kentucky Museum's page here. The first vignette recalls American life in the early 1900s. Along the way, visitors will be introduced to Duncan Hines, the man, with a brief biographical overview of his life, including his birth and upbringing in Bowling Green. They will learn about his family, his career and how what started as a hobby, turned Duncan Hines into an American icon. Visitors will see the Duncan Hines kitchen filled with items from Hines’ own kitchen – his stove, ice bucket and accessories. The cabinets are filled with branded artifacts and objects – mixes, cookware, Stetson dinnerware, and cookbooks.

It not only exhibits the familiar, nostalgic trappings and artifacts of mid-century America, it represents the central themes of Duncan Hines’ work. Just as the kitchen is the heart of a home, this kitchen is at the “heart” of the Duncan Hines story. These are only a few of the artifacts on exhibit at “Recommended by Duncan Hines.”

MAKING THE EXHIBIT POSSIBLE “Recommended by Duncan Hines” is made possible through several gifts. The Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau provided a $35,000 cash gift in addition to a large collection of artifacts, from postcards of restaurants and hotels from the 48 contiguous states bearing the Duncan Hines seal of approval to a seven-piece cookware set that was still in the box. The Park Foundation has contributed $50,000. Hines and Roy Park formed Hines-Park Food Corp. in 1948 to develop and market the Duncan Hines line of food products. Pinnacle Foods, which now owns the Duncan Hines brand, has donated $20,000. The Hines family is supporting the exhibit with a gift of an undisclosed amount. WKU has supported the exhibit with an $80,000 appropriation from the University Enhancement Fund.

ABOUT DUNCAN HINES “Duncan Hines” conjures up images of sweet treats in the minds of most Americans, but there is more to the story. Duncan Hines was a real person…a small town boy turned American icon!

Hines was born on March 26, 1880, in Bowling Green, Ky. He studied at Bowling Green Business University and accepted a job in Chicago as a traveling salesman just before graduation. It was the time spent on the road before returning to Bowling Green that would prepare him for his greatest success.

Hines loved traveling and he loved good food. He soon began keeping a journal and as he traveled, he noted his favorite places to eat. By 1930 he had made 200 entries!

In 1935 Hines put together a list of 167 of his favorite restaurants, in 30 states and included the list in his Christmas cards. Soon after, public interest in Duncan Hines' recommendations exploded! Later in 1936 Hines published his first book “Adventures in Good Eating.” A second edition quickly followed, and in 1938 he published a guide to the best places to stay in America.

This came at a time when the automobile had found its way into the hearts and homes of most Americans. For the first time, Americans were taking road trips. They were seeking out area attractions and wanted to know the best places to eat and stay the night along their journey. These two books gave them just what they had been looking for and proved to be great companions for American people who were experiencing the new found freedom of the road! Readers loved Hines. More importantly, they trusted him. He had strict standards that he didn't waive for anyone.

In the '40s Hines began renting signs “Recommended by Duncan Hines.” Lodging and dining facilities strived to be part of this select group. Most didn't mind maintaining higher standards since a recommendation from Hines often meant the difference between a struggling business and one of profit.

In 1938, after the death of his wife, Florence, Hines moved back to Bowling Green and began work as a private publisher. Hines was often approached to endorse products or companies, but always refused, feeling that a partnership may compromise his “most valuable asset”-his independence.

This changed in 1948 when Hines was approached by Roy Park and offered the opportunity to “upgrade American eating habits.” Park was president of his own advertising agency, and wanted to create an easily recognizable label that shoppers would associate with superior quality. In December 1948 Hines-Park Food Corp. was formed. Soon after, the “Duncan Hines” label would begin to appear on ice cream…this proved to be a huge success and was followed by an additional 150 food products bearing the Duncan Hines name.

Hines took a hands-on approach in marketing these products. He was on the road again attending store openings, promotional events and often appeared on local television and radio programs. With the emergence of outdoor cooking, the Duncan Hines name began to appear on grills, grilling utensils and seasonings as well.

In 1950 Hines-Park announced the product that we most associate Duncan Hines with today - packaged cake mixes. After only two years, Duncan Hines cake mixes had captured 10 percent of the national market. The market continued to grow as Hines-Park Foods' advertising budget went from $10,000 in 1949 to more than $1 million in 1952.

Hines-Park Foods merged with Proctor & Gamble in 1956, and with this change came the addition of a wide array of Duncan Hines baking mixes.

In 1959, 23 years after being declared America's “eatery expert” by a Chicago newspaper, Duncan Hines died. He was 78. In 1962 his guidebooks were discontinued, but his name, his label and the superior quality of his products live on. Today, the Duncan Hines product line includes 60 different mixes ranging from cakes and brownies to cookies and muffins. 

Click here to visit the Kentucky Museum site. Kentucky Museum 1906 College Heights Blvd. on the campus of Western Kentucky University, just off Highway 68/80 Museum Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9am-4pm. Closed on WKU holidays.