Monday, August 29, 2011
Twelve billion times a year, a disc of vanilla cream is stamped between two chocolate wafers to produce the Oreo, the world's most popular manufactured cookie....
"Who Made that Oreo Emboss?" read a recent headline on a New York Times blog.
"Bill, Chapel Hill, NC," answered: "My father is William A. Turnier. He worked for the entire 49 years of his working life at Nabisco. In 19 he was assigned the task of producing a new design for the Oreo."
It turns out Bill Turnier of Chapel Hill really is the son of the man who, by nearly all accounts, designed the modern Oreo. ... Bill Turnier has those details—stories and memories of his dad, a former mail boy-turned-design guru who also put his imprint on the Nutter Butter and the Milk-Bone. And he has the proof: High above a closet door in Turnier's tidy brick home in east Chapel Hill hangs a framed copy of the blueprint for the Oreo's most enduring design, unchanged for nearly 60 years. In the corner, the printed name: "W.A. Turnier" ...
Turnier eventually traded letters for blueprints, moving up the ranks to become a member of the engineering department. Once there, Bill Turnier says his father put his touch on some of Nabisco's better-known products. He created the waffled pattern on the peanut butter snack sandwich known as the Nutter Butter, which launched in 1969, and a delicate, vine-like design on the creamy Cameo cookie, which debuted in 1954. Bill Turnier believes that his father also tweaked the classic, buttery Ritz, added grass to the bottom of one of Nabisco's Barnum animal crackers, and—to many a dog's delight—worked on the Milk-Bone. The latter, Bill Turnier proudly notes, bears his father's distinct penmanship. "I can be walking down the dog food aisle and choke up," he says. ...
Turnier, who died in 2004, encouraged his children to get the education that he'd wished for himself. And though a young Bill Turnier spent summers in New York loading trucks and cleaning equipment for Nabisco, he eventually fulfilled his father's wish, earning degrees from Fordham University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Virginia. After graduating from law school at the latter, he took a job at New York's venerable Cravath, Swaine & Moore, the second-oldest firm in the nation.
Bill Turnier eventually left New York for Chapel Hill. He claims to have no artistic talent, but he definitely has his father's knack for detail. For more than 30 years, he has taught tax law at UNC, which he loves, but admits is tedious at times. "Every once in a while when things are getting boring or something, I'll tell them about the dollar sign and where that came from," he says of his classes. "It doesn't come like you used to think, from Scrooge McDuck with a U and an S on it from the Donald Duck cartoons."
And for times that get really drab, Bill Turnier pulls out another line: My father drew the Oreo.
(Hat Tip: Al Brophy, Gregg Polsky.)