Throughout Campbell Soup history, one of the most beloved, and recurring means of advertising has been the Campbell Soup Kids. These cutesy drawings of little kids with round faces and rosy cheeks became something of a phenomenon in their hey-day. As did the woman behind the characters, Grace Drayton, who is considered one of the first and most successful American female cartoonists.
Born Grace Gebbie in 1877 in Philadelphia, the future artist attended Drexel University and the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. She studied under American artist and teacher Robert Henri before beginning her career as a freelance artist in 1895. During the early 1900s, Drayton was an active member of The Plastic Club – an arts organization for women to promote collaboration and members’ works. Around this time she married her first husband Theodore Wiederseim, who worked for the Ketterlineus Lithographic Manufacturing Company in Philadelphia. After seeing her drawings of cherubic-like little kids, her husband recommended her services to Campbell.
Her drawings became the basis for the Campbell Kids, which began appearing on the sides of streetcars and in magazine advertisements in 1905. Originally in black and white, and later in full color, these kids were primarily drawn with round faces, plump bodies, and flushed cheeks. The kids were so adorable that Campbell licensed the E.I. Horsman Company to make dolls in their likeness. The kids were enormously popular and appeared on balloons, calendars, canisters, cards, clocks, cookbooks, cookie jars, games, decals, dishes, hats, lamps, buttons, lunch boxes, mugs, napkins, ornaments, playing cards, pins, T-shirts, and many, many other items.
The kids appeared in pretty much every advertisement Campbell ran until 1912. Then, to celebrate their 15th birthday in 1954, they were brought back with a bang. They appeared on television commercials and 500,000 Campbell Kids dolls were also released. Today, dolls based on the characters along with products featuring the ads remain highly sought after by collectors. Following her divorce from her first husband, Drayton married William Drayton and started signing her work as Grace Drayton. The pair later divorced in 1923.
Around the same time that she created the Campbell Kids, Drayton produced The Adventures of Dolly Drake and Bobby Blake in Storyland and The Turr’ble Tales of Kaptin Kiddo with her sister Margaret G. Hays. She also designed the popular Dolly Dingle Paper Dolls which appeared in the women’s magazine Pictorial Review. Drayton later became the first woman to be a cartoonist for Hearst/King Features. Here she created such syndicated newspaper comic strips as Naughty Toodles, Dottie Dimple, Dimples, Dolly Dimples and Bobby Bounce, and The Pussycat Princess.
She also illustrated several books by her sister Margaret, including Kiddie Land, Kiddie Rhymes, Vegetable Verselets for Humorous Vegetarians, Babykins Bedtime Book, Little Pets Book and Rosy Childhood. Drayton’s Dolly Dingle dolls are part of the Joseph Downs Collection at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Pieces of her work are also part of the collection at The Cartoon Museum.
While nothing ever quite matched the overwhelming popularity of the Campbell Soup Kids, Drayton’s cutesy work firmly cemented her status as one of the most successful illustrators of the early 20th century.