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Original Gerber baby Ann Turner Cook dies at 95

At a contest more than 90 years ago, judges fell in love with a simple charcoal sketch of a happy infant. But for decades, that infant's name was a mystery.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Decades after her portrait became one of the most recognizable brand symbols in the world, Ann Turner Cook — the original Gerber baby — has died at 95 years old.

Though her likeness as an infant was known to billions, the people in her life remember her as a mom, teacher and novelist. 

"Many years before becoming an extraordinary mother, teacher and writer, her smile and expressive curiosity captured hearts everywhere and will continue to live on as a symbol for all babies," Gerber wrote on Instagram Friday. "We extend our deepest sympathies to Ann's family and to anyone who had the pleasure of knowing her."

Cook's likeness became Gerber's symbol after a 1928 contest. According to the brand's website, artist Dorothy Hope Smith submitted a simple charcoal sketch of her infant neighbor, noting that she would finish the sketch if she won. 

"Her drawing competed with elaborate oil paintings, but the judges fell in love with the baby face Smith drew, and when they chose it as the winner, they insisted that the simple illustration remain a sketch," the website says. 

Credit: AP IMAGES FOR GERBER
Ann Turner Cook, whose baby face launched the iconic Gerber logo, arrives at NBC’s Today Show to announce the winner of the 2012 Gerber Generation Photo Search on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 in New York City. (Amy Sussman /AP Images for Gerber)

The illustration has appeared on all Gerber packaging and ads since 1931, but the cherubic baby's identity was unknown for more than 40 years. Guesses about the baby's identity ranged far and wide: Was it a movie star like Elizabeth Taylor? A more unexpected public figure, like former U.S. Senator Bob Dole? 

According to Gerber, Cook's identity was revealed in 1978. She had become a retired English teacher in Tampa and a mystery novelist. 

Cook's family confirmed to the New York Times that she died Friday in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

According to The New York Times, Cook kept her identity as the Gerber baby secret for so long because she was worried about ridicule. She profited by only $5,000 for the use of her image in the early 1950s — a sum that allowed her to put a down payment on a home. 

Cook knew she was the Gerber baby long before the world found out. She said her mother told her at a young age. 

"If you’re going to be a symbol for something, what could be more pleasant than a symbol for baby food?″ she told the Associated Press in 1998.

   

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