We’ve all seen the Logo on the boxes of raisins from the sun-maid raisin company. The adorable logo with the painting of a lovely brunette on it is both colorful, and catchy. But did you know how the logo was started? Do you know who the model was?? Not many people do.
Lorraine Collett Peterson was born in 1892 and passed away in 1983 at age 91. And she was the original Sun-Maid poster girl.
Like most California stories, Lorraine was spotted by a Leroy Payne who was one of the managing executives for the Griffin and Skelley Fruit Packing Company in Fresno where Lorraine’s father and brother worked. At the time, Lorraine was working at the Panama Pacific Exposition which took place in San Francisco. The company that was being promoted was none other than the California Associated Raisin company as it was called at that time. The Exposition was actually a large fair that celebrated the rebirth of San Francisco after the deadly fire and earthquake of 1906.
Lorraine and many of the young women she worked with at the fair wore costumes of that period that were made of long, white dresses topped with a blue bonnet and kerchief. The women were tasked with handing out boxes of raisins and flyers to visitors as promotional items. They, including Lorraine, even tossed raisins out of an airplane over the crowd.
Lorraine was home taking a break from working at the exposition going on at that time. She was seen by Mr. Payne after having just washed her hair, After her mother had just set her and combed hair in long dark ringlets, Lorraine put on her mother’s red sunbonnet to keep her hair in place. She was spotted by Leroy Payne in the backyard of her family’s home with the red bonnet on her head. That is all it took for Miss Lorraine to go from a $15 a week wage earner at the fruit packing company to being immortalized on the well-known package of the raisins we buy today.
Eventually, Lorraine’s portrait was commissioned by the company by then San Francisco Artist Fanny Scafford who painted Lorraine in watercolor, That image which was used as the start of the well-known corporate logo. Her watercolor portrait was actually trademarked for the company and it began to appear on packaging as early as 1916.
Over time, the image evolved and was updated to reflect the change in times, culture and fashion. One of the earlier images shows the bonnet that Collett wore as a red, but the background was blue as were the original bonnets. The logo/image continued to be reworked from 1960 up until 1974.
Eventually, as the logo changed, so did the box color and was once again updated. The most recent update was in 2009 to reflect current tastes. The logo you see today on the boxes of raisins is of the newest design.
Raisin growers in the valley had long thought that there were financial, marketing and promotional benefits in dried raisins. They thought the name idea of Sun Made raisins appropriate for dried grapes. But with the addition of Lorraine Collett as their raisin spokeswoman in costume, the Sun-Made raisins because Sun-Maid. Though a play on words, it was considered a perfect fit.
Aggressive marketing was put in place soon after the creation of the logo all through the 1920’s. By the end of the decade, raisin consumption in the United States had hit a new all-time high and had tripled in sales. Lorraine Collett was the new and enduring face of Sun-Maid.
Lorraine continued to make appearances here and there showcasing the ‘face’ of the Sun-Maid raisin girl and in 1976, was a guest on the Mike Douglas show where she entertained a new generation of raisin lovers with the history of the Sun-Maid Raisin girl.
Lorraine was eventually presented with a commemorative plaque by the Sun-Maid company, which she later in turn gifted the original portrait of her and her original bonnet to the Sun Maid Raisin Growers. (My Notes…I’ve heard that she was paid $1700 at the time but am not sure of the veracity of it, so won’t state it as a fact here. I would imagine it was possible, though I don't know for sure).
Four years after her death in 1983 at age 91, the Sun-Maid company, on their 75th anniversary as a company, in turn donated Lorraine's bonnet to the Smithsonian in 1987, but I believe they kept the original painting which by now must be quite valuable.
Miss Collett continued to be quite busy. After her model ling stint at Sun-Maid, she did some acting work. Only in California! She landed a small part in a movie called The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, but then returned to her home in Fresno pursuing other interests.
She turned to other ventures in which she ran a restaurant for 2 years. She also ran a cattle ranch, and eventually converted an old hospital into a nursing home. To some extent, she remained connected to the Sun-Maid Raisin company until she passed away.