Historical Marker #1831 in Warren County commemorates Duncan Hines. The man behind the legendary cake mix was also known for his series of guidebooks that helped travelers make dining, lodging, and vacation decisions.
Hines was born on March 26, 1880, in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Raised on his grandparents’ farm, Hines enrolled at the Bowling Green Business School, where he studied for two years. In 1898, a job with the Wells-Fargo Express Company sent him out west. Seven years later, Hines married Florence Chaffin and moved to Chicago, where he joined a local printing and advertising firm which required him to travel across the United States and beyond.
During his extensive travels, Hines would frequently stop at diverse restaurants and taverns, and compiled a personal list of “superior eating places.” In fact, surveying such establishments became a weekend pastime of the salesman. As his list lengthened, Hines shared it with others, and, as a result, people by the hundreds began to prod Hines for tips before they began their travels.
Hoping to quell some of the calls and letters, in 1935, Hines compiled a list of 167 restaurants in 30 states that he sent out with his family Christmas card. Instead of easing the requests, the Hines family was flooded by letters from people who wanted the list. After selling 1,000 copies of his list for a dollar each, Hines still had not satisfied all of the requests for his culinary wisdom. Thus, in early 1937, he self-published his first book, “Adventures in Good Eating.” The Duncan Hines seal of approval was not easy to obtain, as he critiqued the cleanliness of the establishment in addition to the taste and presentation of the food.
Hine’s publication represented and fueled the booming wider trends of American consumerism and driving. As automobiles became more affordable and found their ways into the lifestyles of the middle class, the business model of the roadside eating establishment grew into a powerful consumerist force. “Adventures in Good Eating” helped catalyze a culture of discernment and critique among consumers, which in turn required restaurants to make greater efforts to distinguish themselves from competitors through advertisements and widespread reputations.
By 1937, Hines’ book was so successful he quit his printing job to be his own publisher. Shortly thereafter, he published his second title, “Lodging for a Night,” a guidebook to American hotels and motels, and later his third, “Adventures in Good Cooking.” Hines’s books became staples in the glove compartment of most cars in America, as they were updated and printed in annual editions.
Despite his success as an author, the Duncan Hines name is usually associated with boxed cake mixes. In 1945, a young New York businessman partnered with Hines to form the Hines Park Foods, Inc. By 1950, the Hines-Park Company was producing more than 250 canned, bottled, and boxed products under the Duncan Hines name, with cake mixes being the most popular by 1952.
Hines returned to Bowling Green in 1939. There, his business grew exponentially. He died in his hometown on March 15, 1959, at seventy-eight. Duncan Hines products still line grocery store shelves across America today.