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Rudkin, Margaret - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Margaret Rudkin

farm pepperidge bread company

(1897-1967)
Pepperidge Farm Inc.

Overview

Margaret Rudkin achieved acclaim as one of America’s most successful female entrepreneurs, during an era when being a housewife was considered the appropriate goal of a woman. Her concern for her son’s health prompted this already wealthy housewife to begin baking her own “health bread,” and within 10 years her Pepperidge Farm ovens were producing thousands of loaves a day at a baking facility she designed herself. Her business was later acquired by the Campbell Soup Company, which further expanded the successful brand of baked goods Rudkin had developed.

Personal Life

Margaret “Peggy” Rudkin was born Margaret Fogarty on 14 September 1897 in New York City, one of five children born to Joseph and Margaret Fogarty. Her father drove a truck, and the family lived with their grandmother until Margaret was 12, when her grandmother died. The family then moved to Flushing, New York, where Rudkin later graduated from Flushing’s City High School as class valedictorian in 1915. Following graduation she went to work as a bookkeeper in a bank in Flushing and eventually became a bank teller.

At age 22, Rudkin began working on Wall Street at the brokerage firm of McClure, Jones & Co. There, she became a customer representative, helping people understand their investment choices more clearly. She met her husband, Henry Albert Rudkin, at the brokerage house, where he was one of the firm’s partners. They were wed on April 8 1923 and made their home in New York City.

The first years of the Rudkins’ marriage were prosperous. They had three sons, and in 1928 they decided to build a house in nearby Fairfield, Connecticut, where they had purchased 125 acres of land. The farm became their permanent home in 1931. The Rudkins named their large Tudor-style house and the surrounding acreage “Pepperidge Farm,” after an old pepperidge, or black gum, tree that was on the property. At this time Henry Rudkin sustained a serious injury while playing polo and their activities afterward became more limited.

In 1937, Rudkin’s youngest son, John, was diagnosed with asthma. The allergist said the additives in store-bought foods were probably aggravating the condition. Hearing this, Rudkin began to make all of her son’s food from scratch, including bread.

Having never baked bread before, Rudkin used a recipe from her grandmother’s cookbook. The recipe called for butter, whole milk, honey and whole wheat flour, which Rudkin ground herself. Her son’s health improved so much that the allergist requested she bake more loaves for his other asthma patients.

At this point, Rudkin started to bake in earnest and began to think of baking as an occupation rather than as a component of her son’s health regime. From this time on, Rudkin, together with her husband and children, pursued the business. In later years the Rudkins divided their time between homes in Hobe Sound, Florida, and County Carlow, Ireland. Henry Rudkin died in 1966, and a year later Rudkin herself died of cancer in New Haven, Connecticut, at the age of 69.

Career Details

Beginning in 1937, after her son’s allergist asked her to provide him with some of the “health bread” she had made for her son, Rudkin began to explore the wider sales potential of her bread. She began by making bread for the upscale New York City market and before long her husband was delivering 24 loaves of bread a day to Charles & Co., a specialty food company in Manhattan.

By the end of her first year of baking, using ovens installed in one of the abandoned horse stables on their property, Rudkin was making and selling 4,000 loaves a week, though the price was more than twice the price of a regular loaf of bread. People seemed drawn to the “old fashioned,” homemade, and healthy image of Pepperidge Farm bread.

By 1940, Rudkin moved the bakery to a larger facility in Norwalk, Connecticut, making 50,000 loaves a week. All this time, she was maintaining the high quality of all the ingredients. By 1947, launching a new bakery designed to Rudkin’s own specifications, the Pepperidge Farm Co. was producing 4,000 loaves of bread per hour.

Growth and maintaining quality while expanding were Rudkin’s main concerns. Her husband retired from Wall Street in 1949 and took over the financial side of the company, while she managed the production and personnel. By this time, there were three bakeries: one in Connecticut, one near Chicago, and one near Philadelphia. Rudkin maintained quality control despite the massive expansion. Pepperidge Farm bread was not to be sold after two days on the shelf, and the bread, when it was returned, was recycled into poultry stuffing at a good profit.

The 1950s were a boom decade for Pepperidge Farm under Rudkin’s management. She employed over 1,000 workers. By 1956, she introduced cookies that were “healthy,” and in 1958 frozen pastries made their debut. By this time, Pepperidge Farm, within 15 years of its start, was a brand name recognized nationally and was to be found in virtually every market. Among the growing list of products offered by the company during this period were rolls, coffee cake, Melba toast, stuffing, and Goldfish cocktail crackers.

By 1960, when Rudkin was 63, she and her husband decided to sell the Pepperidge Farm company to the Campbell Soup Company for $28 million in Campbell stock. However, the Rudkins kept a controlling interest in Pepperidge Farm itself, and for the next decade the company was run as an independent subsidiary of Campbell.

During the final years of her life, Rudkin appeared in television commercials for Pepperidge Farm products and authored a cookbook in 1963. She also became a part-time public speaker as a kind of hobby.

Social and Economic Impact

Rudkin was clearly one of the most successful and nationally prominent businesswomen of her generation, a woman who started baking bread for her son and ended by making products with wide appeal among national consumers. During the 1950s and 1960s, when the Pepperidge Farm product line was at the height of its popularity, it is likely that the “homemade” quality of the products was the most appealing feature to the American woman shopper, who was likely making less bread herself.

In the closing decades of the twentieth century, Rudkin’s legacy continued in the popularity of Pepperidge Farm products offered by the Campbell Soup Company, including garlic bread, gourmet cookies, fat-free croutons, stuffing, puff pastry, and Goldfish crackers. According to the 1997 Campbell annual report, the Pepperidge Farm line was considered one of the “jewels in [Campbell’s] portfolio, delivering outstanding, double-digit sales growth.” The report further stated that “a third of all American households with children now eat Goldfish” and singled out “Milano” as “the consumers’ favorite Pepperidge Farm cookie.”

Chronology: Margaret Rudkin

1897: Born.

1923: Married Henry Albert Rudkin on April 8.

1928: Bought 125-acre Pepperidge Farm in Fairfield, Connecticut.

1937: Began baking homemade bread in response to her son’s health problems.

1940: Moved bakery to a larger facility in Norwalk, Connecticut.

1955: Received Distinguished Award to Industry by the Women’s International Exposition, Women’s National Institute.

1960: Sold the company to Campbell Soup Company.

1963: Published Pepperidge Farm cookbook.

1967: Died in New Haven.

Rudkin’s managerial style allowed company growth in response to consumer demand while retaining quality control of Pepperidge Farm products as the production facilities grew. Rudkin made the name Pepperidge Farm a household word, largely by making an honest, high-quality product, and by not compromising quality to reduce price. She also succeeded in selling, with her bread, the idea of the store-bought “homemade” product. She did this just as fewer people were eating truly homemade foods in the 1940s and 1950s and as more and more American foodstuff became commercially mass-produced.

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