The Real People Behind Your Favorite Food Brand Names

Wikimedia Commons/ We HopeFrom Orville Redenbacher to Marie Callender, from Wendy's to Mrs. Fields, there are plenty of food brands out there that took their names from a real-life person. Some were named after their founder (or their founder's relatives), others were named after celebrities who let their name be licensed, but every brand named after a person reflects a unique success story, one of the American dream fulfilled.

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It turns out that the vast majority of brands named after real people are - of course - named after the company's founder. But each of these founders has a unique and oftentimes fascinating story. Take Orville Redenbacher, for example. Beginning at age 12, he spent decades perfecting a hybrid popping corn that popped up light and fluffy. Once he nailed it, it gave rise to a huge company. Other large companies are named after people with only a tangential connection to the brand, like Wendy's, which was named after a nickname for founder Dave Thomas' daughter, Melinda Lou. And if you thought that Duncan Hines' claim to fame was the invention of instant cake mix, then we suggest you check out the 1935 book that made him a household name, Adventures in Good Eating, which had nothing to do with cake mix and everything to do with great restaurants.

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George A. Hormel opened his first pork processing plant in 1891 in Austin, Minn., and in 1901, thanks to gangbusters sales of his fresh pork products, he opened a retail shop in Minneapolis. In 1910 he began running advertisements to help boost sales, and in the 1920s he pioneered a truck-based distribution system and rolled out a groundbreaking invention, the canned ham. Hormel retired and handed the company over to his son Jay in 1927, and 10 years later the most groundbreaking food invention of them all, SPAM, rolled off the production line for the first time.

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When we think of Keebler we tend to first think of elves, but there's in fact a real man behind the brand. Godfrey Keebler opened a small Philadelphia bakery in 1853, and together with a group of other local bakeries he helped start an amalgam that helped increase their distribution. By 1944, the network that Keebler was the first member of, by then named the United Biscuit Company of America, included 16 bakeries with a market scope that stretched from Philadelphia all the way to Salt Lake City. In 1966 it was decided that all these diverse bakeries needed to be consolidated into a single corporate entity. The name they chose was of the man who started it all, Keebler. Today, all Keebler products are festooned with his name and a jolly elf whose name is Ernie, invented by the Leo Burnett Company in 1970.

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Orville Redenbacher
Orville Redenbacher, the man, was born on a farm in Indiana in 1907, and when he was 12 he started growing popping corn, the sale of which allowed him to save enough money to attend college. He continued selling his corn and working on developing a hybrid that popped up lighter and fluffier, and in the mid-1940s Redenbacher started selling his corn for the mass market. By 1965 the hybrid had been perfected, resulting in the fluffy, minimal-hull popcorn we eat today. By the 1970s Orville had become a familiar face on television thanks to his appearing on commercials for the product, and even though he died in 1995, his smiling visage adorns every package of his popcorn today.

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Jimmy Dean
Jimmy Dean didn't get into the sausage game until 1969, but he was a well-known name long before that. Though he's perhaps best remembered for his line of sausages, Dean was also a legendary country music singer, with his biggest hit, "Big Bad John," topping the charts in 1961. He also hosted a television series called The Jimmy Dean Show, which gave puppeteer Jim Henson his first national media exposure, and he also had a role in the 1971 Bond film Diamonds are Forever. His second career, however, was as a sausage man. He started the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company with his brother Don, and as its spokesman he brought a down-home country feel to commercials for the product. He appeared in commercials for it until 2003, and he passed away at the age of 81 in 2010.

Duncan Hines
Although Duncan Hines is most closely associated with cake mix and frosting these days, the man behind the brand name was actually a traveling salesman who ate his way across America. At the age of 55, in 1935, he self-published a book called Adventures in Good Eating, a collection of his favorite restaurants across the country. It became a runaway hit, spurring Hines to write an additional book about lodgings, and over the years if your establishment boasted a "Recommended by Duncan Hines" sign, quality could be counted on. By 1953 Hines was a household name, and that year he allowed his name to be licensed for use on a host of food products, most notably cake mix. Even though he's best known for cake mix today, his book was one of the most influential restaurant guides ever written (and if you look at the company's logo, it's his signature in an open book).

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-Dan Myers, The Daily Meal