Slice Up the Fruitcake

This week, we’re looking at something I don’t like very much – fruitcake. This seasonal sweet treat has never appealed to me. But while preparing for a recent Flickr album featuring images of butter and baking, I stumbled upon three fruitcake photos that caught my eye and deserved detailed views.

First up, a Russell Lee photograph taken in San Angelo, Texas for the Farm Security Administration.

Removing fruit cakes from tin in which they were baked at bakery in San Angelo, Texas. Photo by Russell Lee, 1939. //

In the photo, fruitcakes are removed from their baking tins. My eye was led to a detail in the upper left corner of the image. An object hangs on the wall and on it you can clearly read “K C Baking Powder.”

Detail of Removing fruit cakes from tin in which they were baked at bakery in San Angelo, Texas. //

Compare that detail to this trademark registration from 1891:

Shows red label with lettering.

Trademark registration by F. F. Jaques for K. C. Baking Powder brand Baking Powder. Print, 1891. //

Not much seems to have changed on the baking powder’s packaging in the nearly 50 years that passed since the trademark was registered. The hanging object is likely a notebook that was made for promotional purposes.

Around the same time that Lee took that photo, a baker in Ojai, California sent a fruitcake to the White House. William Cook Baker was quite famous for his elaborate confections, this photo shows the 1936 cake that was given to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Photo shows woman with fruitcake.

Fruit cake for president. Mrs. Ellen Anderson Sec. to Cong. Stubbs of Cal. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1936. //

It is in the details that these cakes shine! The 1936 cake is adorned with the White House, though a closer inspection adds more flavor. The detail shows the south front of the White House as the focal point. If you think this view is different today, you are correct! In 1948, the Truman balcony was added.

Photo shows White House decoration on fruitcake.

Detail of Fruit cake for president. Mrs. Ellen Anderson Sec. to Cong. Stubbs of Cal. //

From the December 13, 1936 issue of the Los Angeles Times, “Weighing approximately 100 pounds, the President’s cake this year is more ornate than ever. It is seventy-two inches in circumference…As in the past, the top center is featured by a replica of the White House, executed in sugar by the deft fingers of Baker… On the front lawn of the White house cake design, Baker has a scroll in red and gold lettering which reads, “Merry Christmas to President and Mrs. Roosevelt.”

Baker’s 1939 cake for the President featured a famous California landmark:

Photo shows woman and man holding large fruitcake.

President gets Xmas fruit cake. Washington, D.C., Dec. 19. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1939. //

The center decoration on the 1939 cake is the Santa Barbara Mission (with a little artistic license).

Detail of fruitcake with building on top.

Detail of President gets Xmas fruit cake. Washington, D.C., Dec. 19. //

While the 1936 cake was festooned with poinsettias, the 1939 cake featured roses.

Though I still don’t like the taste of fruitcake, I’ve come to appreciate it. As is the case with any good baked treat, there can be joy in the details

Learn More:


A Bicycle Challenge in the Nation’s Capital

This past year a researcher called to our attention a series of photographs of children posing with bicycles in the National Photo Company Collection. Below is one of the images, which came to the Library with a somewhat mysterious title: “Times girl on bicycle.” Documentation obtained by the researcher through the Library of Congress’s Chronicling […]

Documenting Historic American Landscapes – Challenge Accepted!

The following is a guest post by Ryan Brubacher, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division.  In late November, the winners of the 2021 HALS Challenge were announced. The announcement offers a good opportunity to highlight the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) collection, including the historical reports found within this collection, as well as the National […]

Ready for Research: Contemporary Photography Donated by the Annenberg Foundation

The following is a guest post by Aliza Leventhal, Head, Technical Services, Prints & Photographs Division. When the Annenberg Space for Photography closed in June 2020, they offered the Library of Congress more than 900 high quality prints from ten of their exhibitions. We responded enthusiastically to this rare opportunity to add work by 329 […]

Through the Eyes of an Angel: New York Photos by Anthony Angel

Earlier this year, the Anthony Angel Collection became available for research. The collection contains around 60,000 black-and-white photographs of New York City, chiefly Manhattan, taken between 1949 and 1967. Angel was born Angelo A. Rizzuto (1906-1967) and listed in the 1910 U.S. Census as Angelino Rizzuto, as Tony Rizzuto in 1920, and as Angelo A. […]

Adding Context: Photographs of Japanese Americans Imprisoned During World War II

The following is a guest post by Mitsuko Brooks, an Archives, History and Heritage Advanced (AHHA) intern at the Library of Congress. Brooks is in her final semester as a student at Queens College (CUNY) working towards a Master of Library Science degree with a certificate in Archives and Preservation of Cultural Materials. This fall […]

A Slice of American Life from the FSA/OWI Photograph Collection

Thanksgiving in America is pie’s time to shine, as one or more of these delightful desserts often provide the sweet finish to Thanksgiving feasts across the country. Depending on where you live or your family hails from, the pies could contain pecan, sweet potato, pumpkin, apple, or a wide variety of other delicious fillings. The […]

African American Soldier: An Iconic Photo from the Civil War

The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, Chief, Prints & Photographs Division. The portrait of this African American family has such a powerful impact that it has become a widely used representation for many aspects of the Civil War era. Donated in 2010 to the Library of Congress, the photograph is already a […]

New Research Guides: Artists’ Fine Prints at the Library of Congress

The following is a guest post by Katherine Blood, Curator of Fine Prints, Prints & Photographs Division. A longer version will appear in On Paper: Journal of the Washington Print Club (Fall 2021). Like poetry, literature, and music—visual art can reflect history, society, politics, and culture in uniquely powerful ways. Artists’ prints typically exist in […]

Remembering Researcher Joe Manning, Who Helped Us Remember So Many Others

The world lost an inspired and inspiring researcher last April, when Joe Manning died. Manning devoted many years to researching people depicted in historical photographs, especially those found in National Child Labor Committee and Farm Security Administration collections. He leaves, however, a rich legacy, not only of his findings but also of his techniques for […]