Duncan Hines Was A Real Person—And A Southerner

Before there was OpenTable, Yelp and Zagat, there was Duncan Hines.

duncan hines

Courtesy of Kentucky Museum and WKU Library Special Collections

For more than 50 years, Duncan Hines cake mixes have lined grocery store shelves. Most of us don’t give the name a second thought as we toss a box or two into our shopping carts to whip up sweet treats at home. There is a story behind the popular brand, though, and it starts with a man named… Duncan Hines.

Was Duncan Hines a Real Person?

Hines, who was born in 1880 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, was a traveling salesman in search of a good meal and place to stay while on the road in the 1930s. As he traveled, he began touring restaurants’ and diners’ kitchens, essentially inspecting them and taking notes to share quality food recommendations with other travelers. These reviews were of particular interest at the time due to poor health standards at roadside diners; health departments weren’t yet on the scene. 

duncan hines

Courtesy of Kentucky Museum and WKU Library Special Collections

Word spread about Hines’ trusted recommendations, and in 1935 he included a list of 167 restaurant recommendations across the country with his Christmas cards. After receiving positive feedback about his list, the “eatery expert” self-published “Adventures in Good Eating,” in 1936; the second edition of his guidebook published in 1937.  

duncan and clara hines
Duncan and Clara Hines on vacation in Hawaii in 1949.

Courtesy of Kentucky Museum and WKU Library Special Collections

Rather than leave accommodations in the rearview mirror, Hines published his first guide to the best hotels and motels across the U.S. in 1938. His popularity skyrocket that same year after he was featured in the “Saturday Evening Post;” in addition to “Adventures in Good Eating,” Hines’ guidebooks morphed into “Lodging for a Night” and “Duncan Hines’ Vacation Guide” books.

Duncan-Hines Products

Like celebrities today, Hines’ increased popularity inspired him to lend his name to product endorsements. He partnered with businessman Roy Park in 1949 to form Hines-Park Foods, Inc., expanding upon Hines’ initial vision of sharing high-quality foods with readers to reach American households. The joint partnership began making more than 250 canned, bottled and boxed products, all with Duncan Hines labels.

Not long after Hines-Park Foods merged with Procter & Gamble in 1956, Duncan Hines cake mixes made their debut on supermarket shelves nationwide. And the rest, as they say, is history. Though Hines passed away in 1959, and his guidebooks ceased publishing in 1962, market research in the 1990s showed that 99% of grocery shoppers recognized the name Duncan Hines. Today, Duncan Hines continues to be a household name when it comes to baked-good mixes; the brand introduced its newest offering, the Dolly Parton Baking Collection, in 2022.

duncan hines

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His Legacy Today

In celebration of Duncan Hines and his impact not only on home baking, but traveling as well, Bowling Green is hosting Duncan Hines Days in June. The weeklong celebration includes a restaurant week, ice cream social, Bowling Green Hot Rods minor league baseball games, a canoe and kayak race, live music and more.

Aside from Duncan Hines Days, the “Recommended by Duncan Hines” exhibit at the Kentucky Museum at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green shares Hines’ life story, and the 80-mile Duncan Hines Scenic ByWay loop begins at Hines’ former home.

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