Kid Tested, Mother Approved

Sugar Specs box, 1958 Brooks Stevens Archive, Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the Brooks Stevens Family and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

Sugar Specs box, 1958
Brooks Stevens Archive, Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the Brooks Stevens Family and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

For the last three years, a portion of my time has been devoted to digitizing a treasure trove of imagery found in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Brooks Stevens Archive.

Stevens, one of the best known industrial designers of the twentieth century, lived and worked right here in Milwaukee, his hometown. While you may not automatically recognize his name, you most certainly will recognize his work: the Oscar-Meyer Weinermobile, Harley Davidson Hydra-glide motorcycle, the Valkyrie coupe sedan, and the round mouth Holsum peanut butter jar–just to name a few! Companies of all sizes, audiences and design needs flocked to Stevens and his firm for over five decades. 

Brooks designed a version of virtually every item imaginable in our world–from large machines including cars, trains, boats, planes, manufacturing machinery, and engines, to items found inside and outside the home and office, such as appliances, furniture, and lawn and garden machinery. In addition to the objects themselves, he was a mastermind at advertising, tackling shoes, clothing labels, crackers, candy, batteries, and even paint cans.

Among the thousands of products and marketing campaigns he and his firm designed, 8,000 images are now up in our online archive, with thousands more images on the way!

Of the many images I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, my current favorite is a mysterious product called Sugar Specs.

Sugar Specs box, 1958 Brooks Stevens Archive, Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the Brooks Stevens Family and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

Sugar Specs box, 1958
Brooks Stevens Archive, Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the Brooks Stevens Family and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

The Stevens-designed Sugar Specs box features a caricature of a young boy with a tiny beanie cap on his head and huge googly cellophane eyes, through which the product could be viewed. On the back of the box is an image of a girl with the same googly cellophane eyes and a pigtail, sprightly curled atop her head. Both have a telltale Cheshire cat-style grin suggesting they are under the influence of a major sugar high.

In the slogan reads the product’s claim to ingredient fame–simply put, Sugar Specs was “Kolored Sugar for Kids.” Just reading the slogan made my teeth hum at the thought of how sweet it must be!

Sugar Specs box, 1958 Brooks Stevens Archive, Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the Brooks Stevens Family and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

Sugar Specs box, 1958
Brooks Stevens Archive, Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the Brooks Stevens Family and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

On its sides additional images display a sunny mother, sprinkling the product into a bowl and then, near the bottom, a young boy with his arms thrown up in joy. “Kolored Sugar for Kids” was clearly “kid-tested, mother approved.”

With sugary sweets about to take center stage in many of our holiday activities, I must ask, are there any memories of Sugar Specs out there?

Beret Balestrieri Kohn is responsible for the care, organization and management of the Museum’s vast collection of audio visual material. This includes images of the Collection, audio tapes of lectures, videos of artist lectures and much more, making Beret the Museum’s in-house A/V guru.
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One Response to Kid Tested, Mother Approved

  1. I have two boxes of Sugar Specs that I was lucky to even get, it seems that it is so obscure, that even the big kids food box and product container collectors are not even looking for them. Personally, I think they look great in my collection and am assuming that the collectors will soon be sighting these out with not much luck because they don’t come up often.

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