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A mystery no more: Tampa’s Ann Turner Cook, the original Gerber baby, turns 93

Widely known for appearing on baby-food jars, Cook taught for 26 years before retiring to become a mystery writer.
Tampa resident, Ann Turner Cook and Mike Dermo, vice president of field sales for Gerber Products Co., celebrate Gerber's 80th anniversary at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay in 2008. [Times (2008)]
Published Nov. 21
Updated Nov. 21

For 40 years, the baby’s identity remained a secret.

People speculated that it might be anyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Jane Seymour to Humphrey Bogart and even Bob Dole.

Finally, in 1978, an English teacher from Florida revealed that it is her bright eyes and cherubic smile that appears on jars of Gerber’s baby food.

Now, the original Gerber baby is all grown up.

Tampa resident Ann Turner Cook, 4 months old when her face was sketched, turned 93 on Wednesday.

Gerber wished her well on its Instagram account.

“Happy birthday to the OG — that’s Original Gerber — baby, Ann Turner Cook!” the company’s post read.

Seeking a face for its baby food advertising campaign, Gerber held a contest in 1928. Artist Dorothy Hope Smith submitted a charcoal sketch of her neighbor, a “tousle-haired, bright-eyed cherub of a baby with endearing pursed lips,” according to the company’s website.

Smith noted in her entry that she would complete the sketch if it won. But there was no need.

Judges preferred the sketch as it was. The Gerber Products Co. adopted the image as its official trademark in 1931, and it has adorned almost every product the company has sold since.

“The image of this happy, healthy baby was soon to become the face that launched a brand,” the company writes on its site, “a face recognized and loved across the globe.”

Ann Taylor Cook poses at her Tampa home in 2004 with a copy of her photo that is used on Gerber baby food products. [Associated Press]

Cook’s face first appeared in Connecticut, where she was born in 1926. But she spent most of her life in Florida, attending junior high and high school in Orlando. She received her master’s degree in English education from the University of South Florida.

A longtime high school English teacher, Cook retired from Hillsborough High School in 1989 to devote herself to writing.

She wrote a series of mystery novels about Brandy O’Bannon, a newspaper reporter and amateur sleuth.

Florida’s waterways and coastlines provided the settings for many of her books.

Ann Turner Cook's books, "Trace Their Shadows" and "Shadow Over Cedar Key." [HELLE, KEN | Times (2003)]

“All of my stories and articles take place in Florida, the out-of-the way places, the small historical towns," she told the Tampa Bay Times in a 2003 story. “That appeals to me.”

Cook coordinated the Tampa Writer’s Alliance’s critique team and was president of the group from 1994-95. She went on lecture tours, speaking to groups about the craft of writing.

She also raised four children.

But to many, she’ll always be the face on the Gerber jars.

“Over the years, as I’ve traveled for Gerber, it always seems bizarre to see my baby picture staring back at me from store windows and banners," she told the Times in 2003.

Read more:

First Gerber baby and Tampa resident meets the newest Gerber baby

Information from Times files was used in this report.


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