By the early 1900s, companies were reaching out to new audiences and finding new ways to interact with existing ones. Pamphlets and storybooks emerged that appealed to mothers and children. Although Billy in Bunbury lacks some of the language used by companies to both frighten adults from using the competition and encourage them to use a company’s own “good” brand, even a children’s story can’t escape some advertising for Dr. Price’s Phosphate Baking Powder (see the title page and last image above).
Still, it’s cute and likely to hold a child’s attention with its vibrant illustrations and rhyme. Published in 1925, Billy in Bunbury tells the story of a little boy “too skinny for his shoes,” and how Hun Bun and the other characters in Bunbury help Billy regain his appetite by providing his mother with new recipes:
Dr. Price’s Baking Powder/And King Hun Bun’s wondrous book/Have made Billy’s mother/an exceedingly good cook./He eats his lunch and breakfast/Each meal he finds a treat./The other fellows watch their step/When Bill comes down the street./Cakes like he met in Bunbury/His mother makes him now./And if YOU want some too, this book/Will tell YOUR MOTHER how!
When it comes to advertising, this is certainly a common idea: our product will make you a better cook (and in this case, mother!). Dr. Price’s Phosphate Baking Powder was popular in the 1920s and 1930s, so clearly someone was buying it. It was owned by Royal Baking Powder Company, a company that still makes baking powder today.
Here in the Culinary History Collection, we have baking powder cookbooks from many companies: Royal, Rumford, Ryzon, Calumet, Clabber Girl, and Warner’s. In addition to Billy in Bunbury, Royal Baking Powder Company produced a handful of children’s themed recipe pamphlets in the 1920s, including The Comical Cruises of Captain Cooky (1926) and The Little Gingerbread Man (1923).
On a final note, although there doesn’t appear to be a scanned copy of the publication online, there is an audio recording of Billy in Bunbury available online at the Internet Archive. It includes both the story and the recipes.
So, whatever your brand of baking powder, get out there and get baking. It seems a great way to bribe children to eat…