The Story Behind Oreo’s Mysterious Design

Gary Lindstrom and Linda Hilton are fascinated by Salt Lake City Cemetery—so fascinated that they’re writing a book about it. (Did you know it’s the largest city-run graveyard in the country?) Researching the book, they not only explore the history of the graveyard (it was formally founded in 1851, though the first burial there was in 1847) but delve into the stories behind the stones—introducing us to the denizens six feet under.

We first consider one of the earliest practitioners of the modern-day food mantra, “presentation is everything.” William Adelbert Turnier. Born in 1908, Turnier dropped out of school at 16, largely because of being bullied incessantly. The other boys ridiculed him for his limp, the result of a bout with polio. Turnier went to work as a mail boy at the National Biscuit Company where his father worked. That’s right: Nabisco.

Dedication, hard work and a pleasant disposition finally earned Turnier a place in the company’s engineering department, despite his limited education. Here, it is said, he added grass to the bottom of the animal crackers box and was instrumental in the design of the Milkbone Dog Biscuit, both iconic 1950s products. But in 1952, he was given the task of redesigning the chocolate cookie part of the Oreo cookie. Oreos weren’t new—they’d been introduced in 1912 with a simple, some have said crude, flowery design on the cookie. Turnier’s design features a shallow outside ring with 90 radial lines encircling 12 four-leaf clovers topped with a mysterious antenna. Many school lunchroom arguments and design experts have offered theories as to the inspiration and origin of the design. Masonic influences? Numerology? Turnier was not a Mason and discounted the conjectures. Turnier left the East Coast and moved to Salt Lake City where he died in 2004. His grave marker, at plot E17-1-4 in the adjacent Mount Calvary Cemetery, is decorated with an engraved Oreo cookie.

Oreo Cookie Design
William Turnier’s Gravestone

By his son Bill’s account, Turnier also stayed out of the never-ending debate about the preferred way to eat an Oreo. (Do you twist it apart, do you painstakingly separate one chocolate wafer and lick off the questionable white icing, do you dip it in milk?) “He just bit it,” said his son, according to one article. He ate one cookie at night before bedtime.”

Ed. Note: Yes, with a glass of milk.

Linda Hilton is retired from a career in community advocacy and the author of an annotated map of the Cemetery.

Gary Lindstrom is an emeritus professor with loves of food, local history and good writing.

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Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf is the late Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She still does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.

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