"My first loaf of bread should have been sent to the Smithsonian Institution as a sample of Stone Age bread, for it was hard as a rock and about one inch high. So I started over again, and after a few more efforts by trial and error, we achieved what seemed like good bread."
— Margaret Fogarty Rudkin
No doubt you’re familiar with the saying, necessity is the mother of invention. However, in some cases invention is the necessity of a mother. This was the case with Margaret Fogerty Rudkin.
In 1937, Margaret turned 40 and her life was irrevocably altered by two major incidences. The first came in the form of financial hardship when her husband, Wall Street broker, Henry Rudkin lost their money during the Depression. The second setback came when the couple discovered their youngest son, Mark was deathly allergic to preservatives and artificial ingredients found in commercially available foods, including breads.
But not only was Margaret determined, she was a smart cookie. A Milano cookie, in fact. By taking a risk and being proactive, she was able to address the family’s dire circumstances. She started by baking bread in the abandoned greenhouse of the family’s Pepperidge Farm estate (so named for the old Pepperidge tree growing on their property).
She used holistic ingredients such as molasses, honey, stone-ground whole wheat, just like her grandmother used to make. It wasn’t long before her three year old’s health improved so much his doctor prescribed loaves of bread to his other ailing patients.
Margaret began selling her popular bread in her hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut and four months later she began selling it in specialty food stores, charging twice the price of other commercially-made loaves. By 1953 she was selling 77,000 loaves of bread a week.
Over the years, Margaret traveled to Europe in search of new food inspiration and expanded the company’s offerings to include Goldfish crackers and Milano cookies.
In 1961, she sold Pepperidge Farm to Campbells Soup Company for $28M. That’s equivalent to $233M by today’s standards. By then Rudkin’s company had 1,500 employees across six plants and sold $40M worth of baked goods annually. Margaret served as the company’s director and became the first woman to sit on Campbell’s Board of Directors.
Although it had never been Margaret Rudkin’s intention to begin a food company, or a successful business woman, that didn’t stop her from having Fortune magazine name her the most powerful woman in business for 1950-1960, in 2007.
But her success didn’t end there. The entrepreneur went on to teach at Harvard Business School. She also penned The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. The first cookbook on the New York Times Best Sellers list.
Margaret Fogarty Rudkin. Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, accessed October 31, 2018.
Pepperidge Farm 2018, Our Story-Pepperidge Farm, accessed 31 October 2018, <https://www.pepperidgefarm.com/our-story/>