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The History of Boxed Cake Mix

By Carolyn Grillo Published

Invented in the 1930s, cake mix changed the way home bakers make cakes. It's still a popular option today.

In the United States, boxed cake mixes were a Depression-era invention of John D. Duff of P. Duff and Sons, a Pittsburgh molasses company. Duff was looking for a way to use up his company’s molasses surplus, so he dehydrated it and combined it with a mixture of flour, sugar, and dried egg. This mix allowed home cooks to make gingerbread by simply adding water to form a batter before baking. At the time, families were looking for a simple, inexpensive way to enjoy cake, and Duff’s invention fit the bill. 

After World War II, cake mixes really took off. Big flour companies had spent the war concentrating on creating dry mixes for the troops, but the end of the war allowed flour companies to return their focus to busy consumers. 

Several major companies began developing cake mixes. Betty Crocker—named after a fictional character who was created to respond to the thousands of baking questions the company had received from home cooks—began selling cake mixes in 1947. The following year, Pillsbury launched the first-ever chocolate cake mix. By 1951, Duncan Hines, Pillsbury, and Betty Crocker were all manufacturing cake mixes.

These ads from Betty Crocker, Dromedary, and Weston’s from the 1940s or 1950s advertise boxed cake mix by promising consistency, speed, and convenience, saying, “I guarantee a perfect cake every time you bake,” “Make it yourself in just 4 minutes,” and "It’s a speedy way to make a man say 'Ah!'"

In the mid-1950s, boxed cake mix sales began to flatten. General Mills hired a psychologist and marketing specialist named Ernest Dichter who surveyed women in an attempt to understand this trend. His analysis found that women felt guilty for not contributing more. Dichter’s research caused companies to produce advertisements meant to persuade women to think of baking cakes from packaged mixes as merely one step in the process. Women were encouraged to decorate their cakes with frosting, and this proved to be an important turning point for cake mixes. In her book Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America (2005), food historian Laura Shapiro said, “This decorating obsession sold the idea that this way, you're making the cake yours.”

And they remain popular today: It's estimated that more than 186 million Americans used cake mix in 2020.

Taste Test Chocolate Cake Mixes

Boxed cake mixes are convenient and reliable. But do any of them yield cakes with the intense chocolate flavor and moist, delicate texture of homemade versions?

Taste Test Yellow Cake Mixes

Can any come close to homemade?

Photo Credits: Neil Baylis / Alamy Stock Photo and John Frost Newspapers / Alamy Stock Photo

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.