Jell-O: America’s Most Famous Dessert: At Home Everywhere

Curated by Dr. Nicole Tarulevicz, Senior Lecturer in Asian Studies, School of Humanities, University of Tasmania & JJ Jacobson, Curator, American Culinary History Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan Libraries


An exhibit highlighting materials from the University of Michigan Special Collections Library.

First trademarked in 1897, Jell-O began its rise in popularity with the introduction in 1904 of the prophetic slogan "America's Most Famous Dessert." Soon accompanying the slogan was the blonde Jell-O Girl, an icon of the product for almost half a century. As the slogan aspired, Jell-O became both famous and quintessentially American: it is sweet and processed, colorful and slightly fantastical. Advertising for the brand worked hard to appeal to the many Americas, negotiating class and race (with varying success) to suggest versatility. In the period 1904-1929, Jell-O advertising was distinctively characterized by luscious color illustrations of “molded jellies” (what we would know as “gelatin molds”) elaborately decorated and served in equally illustrative settings. Fantastical settings – fairy tales and Arabian nights, domestic settings real and imagined, foreign and American – positioned Jell-O as not only America’s most famous dessert but one that was “at home everywhere.”