Monday 16 May 2016

Why the Laughing Cow laughs and how she got her name

Most people have heard of the Paris taxis drafted in to help during the Battle of the Marne in WW1 but there is another interesting fact relating to Parisian transport.
Once it became clear that the war was going to last, getting supplies of fresh food to the large number of troops in the war zone became a problem.  Until that time, wagons with horses were the main means of taking supplies to troops at the front in wartime.   With the vast numbers of troops involved and the terrain of the Western Front in WW1, it was clear that a more efficient means was required.  And so Parisian buses – motorized transport - were drafted in and modified to take much needed supplies of fresh food to the front.
A special unit was set up to transport fresh meat called in French Ravitaillement de Viande Fraiche and known as RVF.  This organization was divided into sections and each section had their own logo to identify their vehicles. Animals were chosen – a cow, a monkey, stork, dog, goose, etc. - and a competition was held to find the most suitable drawings to be used on each section’s buses. 
German supplies of fresh food were transported in motorized vehicles with the insignia “Walkirie” and French Cartoonist Benjamin Rabier won the prize for his drawing for a logo for Section B70 of the RVF.  Rabier decided to parody the German Walkirie emblem which referred to the Valkyries, made famous by Wagner in “The Ride of the Valkyries”.  Rabier drew a parody of the German logo - a laughing cow under the banner “Wachkyrie” which looks remarkably like “vache qui rit”, meaning laughing cow.
The design was accepted by the authorities, on whom the ironic humour was not lost, and it was duly installed on the eight buses of Section B70.
One of the drivers of the eight buses in Section B70 of the RVF was a certain Leon Bel, a cheese maker from ComtĂ© in France, who was 36 at the start of WW1. He was assigned to the RVF as a driver. 
When Leon Bel started France’s first industrial cheese making concern in 1921, he drew a cartoon representation of a cow to use as a company logo.  However, he wasn’t completely satisfied with his drawing and so he contacted his old friend Benjamin Rabier, who came up with the design we know today – the head of a cow laughing - wearing the now famous round cheese boxes as earrings.  
With thanks to the Facebook Group Hommage aux Poilus for bringing this to my attention.