Jell-O is an iconographic product, both famous and quintessentially American: it is sweet and processed, colorful and slightly fantastical. It also worked hard as a brand to appeal to the many Americas, negotiating class and race, with varying success, to suggest both product and cultural versatility.
The centerfold of the 1916 edition of Jell-O America’s Most Famous Dessert, epitomizes the visual aesthetic of Progressive Era Jell-O advertising. Ranging from Thrifty salad and plain Strawberry Jell-O to an elaborate two-tone purple Grape Ambrosia (topped with cookies, cream and fruit), the breadth of items suggests versatility in both what is done with the Jell-O (savory salads, plain desserts, fancy desserts) and in social setting. This broad array of treats works to claim that Jell-O is suitable for a humble or grand table, a skilled or novice cook, a small family or a large household. The centerfold is thus simultaneously inclusive and aspirational.
Jell-O America’s Most Famous Dessert: At Home Everywhere (1922) explains the ubiquitousness of Jell-O as: “Because it is easy to make, because it is so inexpensive, because it is so even and so high in quality, Jell-O, in its role of ‘America’s Most Famous Dessert,’ is confined to no one class of people. It is as much at home in the mountain cabin as in the stately ‘big house’ on the old plantation...Wherever men have built roofs against the heat or cold, Jell-O seems to have found its way.” Seven scenes illustrate the Jell-O diversity of America, East and West, presented alongside recipes and culinary advice. In this case a bear ignores sublime mountains and rolling hills to eye golden Jell-O on the humble cabin bench.