Who is the Pillsbury Doughboy? As one of the brand mascot’s biggest fans, I used to feel confident about answering this question. The Pillsbury Doughboy was a sweet, friendly character born out of Leo Burnett’s critter agency. In 1965, Leo Burnett copywriter Rudy Perz imagined a tiny boy made out of dough popping out of a canister of poppin’ fresh dough from Pillsbury. Add a chef’s hat, two blue eyes, and a belly which giggled every time you poked him and poof! Welcome to the world Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy.
It’s a backstory so sweet it’s quite literally baked into the Pillsbury brand, but what if it isn’t entirely correct? On March 6, 2023, Chris Richmond, founder and president/treasurer of Moving Pillsbury Forward, wrote about the discovery of an early Pillsbury Doughboy image found at the former Springfield Pillsbury Plant. This early image is known as the “Bicep Doughboy.”
Richmond wrote in a Moving Pillsbury Forward blog post the Bicep Doughboy was discovered at the former Springfield Pillsbury plant. (This address, for anyone interested, is 1525 E Phillips Avenue, Springfield, Illinois, 62702.)
The drawing was found on a control panel door in the bakery mix portion of the plant in early December 2022. In the illustration, the Pillsbury Doughboy we all know and recognize today is depicted as being quite similar to the current brand mascot’s design with one major exception. His right arm is flexing serious muscle, thus the “Bicep Doughboy” name.
How The Bicep Doughboy Discovery (Might) Change Everything
What makes the Bicep Doughboy an incredible find is it is the earliest known version of the Pillsbury Doughboy.
The backstory of the Pillsbury Doughboy is Rudy Perz came up with the idea in the 1960s. Perz’s rough sketch, seen below, was polished up by a Leo Burnett animation expert named Milt Schaffer. Perz is credited with the creation of the Doughboy, his laugh, chef’s hat, and friendly grin. Schaffer added the neckerchief and height measurements, kicking the Doughboy up to 7 and ½ inches tall. Cartoonist Martin Nodell, creator of the Green Lantern, is also credited with helping invent the Pillsbury Doughboy. So technically, there are three names largely associated with the creation of the Doughboy: Perz, Schaffer, and Nodell.
The discovery of this Doughboy illustration suggests there may be a fourth creator in the mix. Further, it is possible this person could be credited as the true creator of the Doughboy since the image dates to 1965 — and possibly earlier.
Richmond writes the bakery mix area of the plant was built in 1949. A recurring story reported by former employees was of an employee who worked at the Pillsbury plant and sketched the Doughboy image. These sketches were reportedly placed at various spots around the plant and everyone loved seeing them. Later, speculated to have occurred in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the mystery artist placed a sketch in the company suggestion box. Pillsbury paid him for the idea, according to Richmond’s post, but it’s difficult to know if Bicep Doughboy was the sketch which sold the brand on the image or if a less bulky Doughboy was suggested instead.
As a Doughboy fan, I admit I’m torn at how I’m supposed to feel hearing this news. Part of me has always enjoyed the Perz storyline and does hope, to some extent, this narrative of him coming up with the Doughboy at the kitchen table is still more truthful than false or worse, fabricated entirely. But to see an early image emerge from a Pillsbury plant in Springfield, not too terribly far from the Leo Burnett Chicago office, holds less dizzying “what is happening?” gravity it might carry if such an image was found in a cave or next to a fossil.
Richmond suggests the Doughboy could very well have been born in Springfield but raised in Chicago — which could very well become part of the Pillsbury Doughboy’s revised backstory if it turns out to be true.