Pillsbury History

Early Pillsbury Doughboy Image Followup


Moving Pillsbury Forward (MPF) announced last week that an early doughboy image was found at the former Springfield Pillsbury plant.  MPF asked for your help to bring forth information about the “Bicep Doughboy” discovery.  Various media outlets picked up on the story and aided us in the effort to get the story out to the community.  MPF is pleased to report that the collective effort worked.  There were several new leads regarding the history of the “Bicep Doughboy” image.  This information has been documented as accurately as possible.  The new leads have proven to be fascinating. 

The “Bicep Doughboy” found at the former Springfield Pillsbury plant

The story begins with two local teenagers who went to work at the Springfield Pillsbury Mill in the early 1940s.  Both young men were born in 1925, worked at Pillsbury, then joined the Navy and served during WWII.  Both men returned from the war and went back to work at the Springfield Pillsbury plant.  They remained best friends for the rest of their lives. 

Wynn “Wilky” Wilkins and Jim “Jaws” Shrake were well known at the Springfield Pillsbury plant in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.  Wynn was known for making cartoon sketches of his friend Jim (and other coworkers) and posting them around the plant in break rooms and various other areas of Pillsbury.  Early in his life Wilkins had taken up art and attended art school.  He continued in art by sketching works for the local Pillsbury newsletter known as “The Springfield Safety Circle” that originated in 1949.  In a recently documented 1955 issue he is listed as Wynn Wilkins – Artist

Wynn Wilkins was promoted to a salaried supervisor position at the plant sometime in the mid to late 1950s.  He continued his sketch work and even made a few dollars on the side doing advertising pieces.  He had honed his artist’s craft well enough to gain good attention. 

The story as told by Wilkins and Shrake family members is that Wynn drew a doughboy sketch and gave it to the plant manager.  The manager then passed it along to the Minneapolis Pillsbury headquarters.  From there it is unknown just what happened to the sketch.  Later, Wynn was offered a promotion within the Pillsbury Company but would have had to relocate to the headquarters in Minneapolis.  He and his family decided to take a pass on the opportunity.  In 1962 or 1963, Wynn shifted gears in life and took another full-time job away from Pillsbury.  For the rest of Wynn’s working life, he would utilize his artistic talents in various ways.    

Recent interviews with family members of Wynn Wilkins and James Shrake, several former Springfield Pillsbury employees, along with sketches and memorabilia from the families, has led to the plausible conclusion that Wynn Wilkins is the original artist of the “Bicep Doughboy” that has been found at the former Springfield Pillsbury plant.   

We (MPF) understand that this narrative is counter to the doughboy origin narrative that has been put forth by others over the years.  Clearly, the timing involved in the Wynn Wilkins origination story pre-dates the famous 1965 doughboy origination story from the Leo Burnett team.  The two origin stories are in direct conflict with each other.

Can the Wynn Wilkins doughboy origination story be proven?  Not Likely. Short of a Wynn Wilkins signed and dated doughboy, proof of origination is unlikely.

Can the Wynn Wilkins doughboy origination story be strengthened with more research?  Yes. 

Additional research will possibly strengthen the plausible conclusion that artist and former Pillsbury employee Wynn Wilkins created the original doughboy image that was later crafted into a worldwide Pillsbury Company icon by the Leo Burnett team in 1965.  It is likely that additional evidence can be found by conducting further investigations and collecting more information.  Documentation through former employee interviews, archive searches, and personal records searches still need to take place.

The story presented here represents a fascinating new line of consideration for the true origin story of the iconic Pillsbury Doughboy.  Since 1965 the famous Pillsbury Doughboy origin story from the Leo Burnett team has been widely accepted.  No alternative existed until now.  The newly exposed origin story with Wynn Wilkins as the artist is a credible and believable alternative.  It is hard to know now which one is historically most accurate.  What we do know is that the origin of the iconic Pillsbury Doughboy just became more interesting than ever.

Thanks to all who have contributed to this exciting adventure.  Please, continue forwarding any new leads (images, information, documentation, etc.) that may bring historic clarity to the true origin of the iconic Pillsbury Doughboy.

Thank you!

Chris Richmond, Polly Poskin, & Tony DelGiorno
Moving Pillsbury Forward

Read the associated article from the SJ-R…