Whole Wheat Bread and the Metamorphosis of Margaret Rudkin

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In the 1930s during the Great Depression, Margaret Rudkin was a housewife and mother residing in Connecticut. She was bright and attractive, and was married to Henry Rudkin, an investment broker. In the early days of their marriage, Henry did well and the family built a nice house with stables for the horses they kept for his hobby of playing polo. In fact, their
Margaret Rudkin

Margaret Rudkin

home was more of a "Farm" than merely a home and yard. The Depression did not bode well for investment brokers, and in the 1930s his business declined considerably. On top of financial worries, the Rudkins also had to deal with the serious asthma and allergies with which the youngest of their three children suffered.

Margaret was neither college educated nor did she have much business experience, and in the home, she was not well versed in such facets as baking. While her grandmother had been an excellent baker, Margaret had never paid much attention and had not learned much if anything about baking as a child. But with her son's illness, Margaret did considerable research as to food allergies and the beneficial effects that a healthy diet could have on asthma.

As far as bread was concerned, in those years, groceries offered little more than mass-produced loaves of white bread selling for 10¢ a loaf. Through her research, Margaret found that all-natural stone ground whole wheat flour was rich in nutrients that processed white flour lacked, and that such nutrients and the healthier diet they would provide could lead to better health for her son, whose medical problems now required a very restricted died. So, Margaret undertook to learning
basic baking skills needed for bread making, and after many unsuccessful attempts, she found success, and was able to bake bread that was liked and appreciated by her family, and which had the desired effect of improving her son's health.

Margaret discussed her son's health and her whole wheat bread with her son's doctor, and he could not believe that she could produce good tasting bread using only whole wheat flour. She provided a sample to him, and he was so impressed that he not only asked for several loaves for himself and for his family, but also to provide to other patients. That doctor went so far as to write a letter of recommendation for Margaret's bread which she used to solicit other doctors in the community to try her bread and to similarly recommend it to their patients. It was amazing to many that her small but growing customer base was willing to pay the outrageous sum of 25¢ per loaf for her homemade whole wheat bread,
two-and-one-half times the cost of store-bought, mass-produced while bread.

With her early success, Margaret decided to go a step further, and brought samples of her bread to local grocers, and despite early misgivings, some gave her bread a try, and to their amazement, it was an instant success, and she soon saw her bread being sold in numerous grocery stores. Until then, Margaret was a one-woman operation, but she then hired a
neighbor to assist her in her bread baking, and soon had to expand her operation from her kitchen to her garage. Within only a couple of months, her number of employees grew to six and her enterprise was producing upwards of 100 loaves of bread per day.

Henry also took loaves of Margaret's bread with him when he commented to his New York office, and convinced many New York City specialty shops to carry the bread.

By the waning days of the 1930s, with the Depression having greatly cut into the ability of enthusiasts to engage in expensive hobbies such as keeping polo ponies and with Henry Rudkin having given up polo, Margaret moved her operation to the now renovated stable area of the family's "Farm". Her bread was the beneficiary of considerable free
publicity when both Readers Digest and the Christian Science Monitor featured articles extolling the virtues of her bread.

In the early 1940s, Margaret moved her operation to her first actual factory, in Norwalk, CT, and despite the effects of World War II, in particular the difficulty in obtaining the needed ingredients for her bread, her business continued to grow, and in 1945 she expanded to a new factory that produced four thousand loaves of bread per hour. She had to make concessions to the need for mass-production and added automated equipment to various parts of her production process,
but never wavered from her belief that her bread, to be the best tasting whole wheat bread that her customers expected, had to be hand-kneaded to ensure the equal distribution of yeast.

Eventually Henry quit his job and joined Margaret's business, as did two of the couples' three sons. By 1951, her company's production had reached 44,000 loaves of bread per day, with customers in 44 states and several foreign countries. Besides her signature whole wheat bread, her company expanded to producing stuffing, cookies, and frozen pastries. Margaret even did her own TV commercial in 1950.

Business continued to expand over the next decade, with more new and successful products added. After a multi-decades-long adventure that Margaret had never imagined, she sold her business to Campbell Soup in 1961, for the sum of $28 Million. However, Margaret was far from retirement, and thereafter occupied a seat on the Campbell Soup Board of Directors, wrote a best-selling cookbook and became a sought-after public speaker, which included multiple speaking engagements at the Harvard School of Business Administration.

The company that Margaret began in her kitchen in 1929 is today a marketing leader throughout the world, selling its product lines of "home-made" bread, signature cookies such as Milano, Brussels, and Bordeaux, and Goldfish crackers, all of which begun under Margaret's leadership, and more.

Did we mention that way back in 1929, she named her company after that of the family "farm" - Pepperidge Farm?

Margaret died in 1967, and in 1994 she was inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame.

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