Her face has adorned boxes of Sun-Maid raisins for years, a smiling young woman in a simple white shirt with dark curled hair. She wears a red bonnet on her head that ties underneath her neck and carries a basket overflowing with ripe, green grapes — grapes that will no doubt be made into raisins very soon! She’s the icon for Sun-Maid, and one that few may realize is based on a real person. Today, we’re taking you back in time to meet Miss Lorraine Collett Petersen, the real-life inspiration for the Sun-Maid Girl.
The story begins in May 1915, when Lorraine was discovered in the backyard of her parents’ home in Fresno, CA drying her black curled hair in the sunlight. Leroy Payne, a Sun-Maid executive, saw her there — not too terribly unusual, considering that Lorraine’s home was nearby the Sun-Maid processing plant in Fresno. Payne believed this young woman was the exact personification of the Sun-Maid brand. Lorraine was asked to pose for a painting, holding a tray filled with fresh grapes, which was drawn by artist Fanny Scafford. Little did she know the impact this painting would have on the brand! In 1916, the image was applied to packages of Sun-Maid raisins, becoming its new trademark and one of America’s most recognized product symbols.
Californian life in the early 1900s was a much simpler time; one where a rural life set to a slower pace was the norm. Lorraine’s involvement with Sun-Maid didn’t end after her portrait was drawn either. As the brand became a symbol of the San Joaquin Valley’s agricultural economy, Lorraine served as a real-life “sun maid” representative on behalf of the business. She attended many events with fellow “sun maids” including the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1924, where they passed out boxes of raisins to passerbys. The girls all wore the signature white blouses with blue piping — and blue bonnets.
Wait, so why did the girls at the Exposition wear blue bonnets when the Sun-Maid Girl’s was famous for being red? In Lorraine’s words, after the event was over a wife to an executive at the Exposition suggested changing out the bonnets from blue to red because red reflected the color of the sun better.
In the decades to come, both Sun-Maid and Lorraine remained fiercely protective of the brand’s trademark. Sun-Maid would only modify the icon’s illustration a handful of times including in 1923, 1956, and 1970 before the illustration would ultimately step out into life in 2006.
As for Lorraine, she continued making appearances on behalf of Sun-Maid for years to come. Both her original red sunbonnet and original watercolor painting were presented to Sun-Maid in 1974. Lorraine passed away in 1983 and her original sunbonnet was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. in 1988. However, should you decide to travel to Sun-Maid’s offices in Kingsburg, CA, you’ll be pleased to find that a replica of her bonnet remains on display in the lobby there as well, a part of her legacy that will always be cherished by consumers — and raisin enthusiasts — everywhere.