Kewpie® – The Adorably Cheerful And Charming Character Brand Whose Very Name Is Synonymous With Cute!
Created more than a century ago by artist and writer, Rose O’Neill, Kewpie® was one of the world’s first global licensing sensations. Rose O’Neill, known as “America’s First Female Cartoonist” was recently inducted into the 2019 National Women’s Hall of Fame, recognized for her work as an Artist and Women’s Activist. A prolific illustrator, Smithsonian Magazine wrote that O’Neill “revolutionized the intertwining of marketing and political activism”, referring to her fight for women’s right to vote, support of racial equality and advocacy for the poor.
Originally launched as a comic published in 1909 in Ladies’ Home Journal, O’Neill’s Kewpie illustrations and stories featured these “little cupids” doing good deeds in funny and unexpected ways. Rose O’Neill described a Kewpie® as the baby form of a Cupid – “a sort of little round fairy who is always searching for ways to make the world a better and a funnier place.” O’Neill’s tiny-winged, wide-eyed, round-bellied Kewpies – with their distinctive facial expressions and their message encouraging merriment, love and kindness – were an instant hit with both kids and adults. Little did Rose know that more than a century later, Rolling Stone Magazine would write about Kewpie helping to define “pop culture cuteness”.
As the Kewpie brand grew in popularity, O’Neill created a line of paper dolls, which were soon joined by porcelain dolls and an array of other Kewpie licensed products such as dishware, baby rattles, publishing and stationery. The cheerful, cherubic characters also starred in a wide range of advertising and promotions for everything from Jell-O, Colgate and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes to posters advocating Women’s Suffrage.
From 1914-1918, O’Neill was well known as a “suffrage artist”. Her art was used for suffrage posters, flyers and postcards that were circulated throughout the United States. Her illustrated stories published by Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Delineator, and Woman’s Home Companion from 1909-1928 dealt with the subjects of suffrage, war bonds, supporting soldiers and discrimination. Kewpie was “a good-will ambassador” spreading love, laughter, and philanthropy. O’Neill’s Kewpie comics appeared as a full page in Sunday newspapers across the United States from 1917-1930’s.
2020 marks the 100th Anniversary of the 19th amendment, which guarantees all American women the right to vote. Achieving this milestone required a lengthy and difficult struggle; victory took decades of agitation and protest. As a successful artist, writer, businesswoman and philanthropist, Rose O’Neill boldly assisted with the activities of the female suffrage movement coordinated by the National Woman’s Suffrage Association headquartered in New York City. Today, Rose’s efforts, and the Kewpie messages remain just as relevant underscoring again that women’s participation in government is crucial to democracy.
In 2020, lead trend retailers and manufacturers are utilizing O’Neill’s suffrage art as we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote. Women’s Votes Count! All Votes Count! 100 Years Later and Never More Important!
Throughout the twentieth century the uniquely adorable Kewpies continued to endear themselves to each new generation. Often imitated but never duplicated, part of the brand’s enduring success is due to these six attributes unique to Kewpie:
- Wide side-glancing eyes
- Distinctive Kewpie facial expressions
- A top knot of hair
- Side tufts of hair above each ear
- A similar tuft of hair at the base of the headline on the back side
- The starfish right hand