Duncan Hines: Gasoline Pilgrim to Cake King

Duncan Hines is known as the king of convenient cake, but his journey started in a car – not a bakery. Hines worked as a traveling salesman in the early twentieth century, when cars were the latest American innovation and interstate highways were still a hopeful aspiration. Hines, however, traveled extensively for his job, navigating those rough early roads and looking for crave-worthy meals along the way.

Adventurous Miles and Meals

Bowling Green, Kentucky
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Hines spent much time on the road, away from his wife and the comfort of their home, where they loved indulging in the finer things – food especially. Life on the road was a far cry from his life in Bowling Green, Kentucky, so he put a lot of energy into finding the best possible meals and inns in each town and city he visited.

Eventually, Hines bought his car and wooed his wife to tag along on these long trips. In his later book “Adventures in Good Eating,” he shares he wanted to “do something different, to play a new game that would intrigue [his] wife and give [him] her companionship” on these extended adventures.

They traveled the country together to “test its outstanding food [and] to meet interesting people along the way.” Moreover, the traveling salesman captured the essence of wanderlust when mentioning that the larger goal was to “bring home with us from each trip a lot of pleasant memories that we could keep stored away in our minds to feast on in later years.”

Duncan Hines – The Original Traveling Foodie Influencer

Vintage travel bags
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Between their motoring adventures, Hines and his wife would regale friends and family with their road trip tales and share recommendations for where to get the finest meals along the way. Eventually, these trip highlights became a regular inclusion in holiday cards, but Hines saw a bigger opportunity.

“There are thousands of these gasoline pilgrims to whom the price of a meal is a minor consideration – except as an indication of the quality of the food and service and the attractiveness of the background.”

Hines recognized that motorists in the United States were willing to invest their hard-earned money in adventurous expeditions – all in search of great food experiences and exploring new landscapes. So, he gathered hundreds of recommendations for finding the best restaurants on your travels and published his first book in 1935 – at age 55.

Because, in his own words, “Why should so vast a national expenditure be left entirely to chance?”  

Things That Rise – Influencer Fame and Cake

Duncan Hines became a household name in the United States. Between the late 1940s and mid-50s, he published guidebooks and wrote a newspaper column. Along the way, he teamed up with Durkee's Bakery Company to produce his first ever widely distributed baked good – bread.

The bread premiered in 1952 and was a hit, so Hines parlayed that into the ultimate influencer power play. He licensed his name, of course — ultimately giving rise to the convenient cake mixes we still know and love.

A Duncan Hines X Dollywood Road Trip? Yes, Please.

If you're among the modern-day gasoline pilgrims looking for (any) excuse to set out on a road trip, we humbly submit this homage to Duncan Hines. In honor of the OG-travel influencer's birthday – on March 26 — you can combine two of life's greatest joys: Duncan Hines cake and the sugary sweet goodness of Dollywood.

Bowling Green Kentucky, hometown of Duncan Hines.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Start your adventure in Hine's hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Each June, they host Duncan Hines Days, which includes restaurant week and an entertainment and travel festival. While in town, stop by the Kentucky Museum to meander the Recommended by Duncan Hines exhibit, featuring eight separate collections, including a recreation of his real-life kitchen using family heirlooms.

When you're ready to hit the open road again, hop on the Duncan Hines Scenic Byway and make a pit stop at his original 1940s home and office.

Travel, Eat, Bake, Repeat

From there, continue to Dollywood's annual Flower & Food Festival in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – a quick four-hour jaunt. The festival overlaps with the timing of Duncan Hines Days so that you can double down on nostalgia – and the festival's famed flower-inspired cupcakes.

Flower cupcakes from Dollywood
Image Credit: The Dollywood Company.

Plus, once home, Dolly fans can savor the cakey connection between Hines and the famed singer-songwriter. In much the same vein as Hines and his wife, Parton has collected recipes from her family and travels. She brought Hines' quest for good food memories full circle when partnering with the Duncan Hines brand to release some limited-edition Dolly-themed baking mixes.

Duncan Hines baking mix and frosting.
Image Credit: Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.

The southern-centric goodies are yet another reason why we love Dolly Parton. In true foodie style, she told Food & Wine that these “baking mixes steeped in my Southern roots, like cornbread and biscuits. I think folks are really going to like them and hope they'll bake up some special memories with family and friends.”

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.