Rudkin, Margaret Fogarty

views updated Jun 11 2018


During an era when being a housewife was considered the appropriate goal of a woman, Margaret Rudkin (18971967) achieved acclaim as one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the United States. 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 herself designed. Her business was later acquired by the Campbell Soup Company, which further expanded the successful brand of baked goods Rudkin had developed.

Margaret "Peggy" Rudkin was born Margaret Fogarty on September 14, 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, and Co. where 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 Rudkins named their large Tudor-style house and the surrounding acreage "Pepperidge Farm" in 1931, after an old Pepperidge (black gum tree) that was on the property. Henry Rudkin sustained a serious injury while playing polo, making their activities afterward more limited.

In 1937 the Rudkins' 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 regimen. From this time on Rudkin, along with her husband and children, pursued the business.

Beginning in 1937 after she provided her son's allergist 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 and 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. Although 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, where she was able to make 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 by specifying that her bread was not to be sold after two days on the shelf. When surplus bread was returned from the distributer, Rudkin used it to make poultry stuffing for a good profit.

In the 1950s Pepperidge Farm, under Rudkin's management, employed over 1,000 workers. By 1956 she introduced cookies that were "healthy," and in 1958 frozen pastries made their debut. By that time Pepperidge Farm (within 15 years of its inception) was a brand name recognized nationally; products were found in virtually every market. Among the growing list of products offered by the company during that 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. During this period 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.

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 female shopper, who was likely making less homemade 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 pastries, and Gold-fish 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."

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 Pepperidge Farm a household name, largely by making an honest, high-quality product and 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 foodstuff in the United States became commercially mass-produced.


Brendan, Gill. "Better Late than Never." Sales and Marketing Management, September 1996.

"Biscuits and Confectionery," [cited] available from the World Wide Web @

Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner's, 1988, s.v. "Rudkin, Margaret."

Rudkin, Margaret. The Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1965.

Margaret Fogarty Rudkin

views updated May 09 2018

Margaret Fogarty Rudkin

Entrepreneur of quality bakery products, Margaret Fogarty Rudkin (1897-1976) was founder and president of Pepperidge Farm Inc., the largest U.S. independent baking company.

The oldest of five children of Joseph and Margaret (Healey) Fogarty, Margaret Fogarty was born in New York City on September 14, 1897, during the time of cobblestone streets and gas lampposts. The family lived in a four-story brownstone with an Irish grandmother who taught ten-year-old Margaret about cooking, starting with biscuits, cream sauce, and chocolate cake. When she was 12 the family moved to Flushing, Long Island, where she attended public schools and graduated as valedictorian of her high school class.

Interested in a career in business, she went to work as a bookkeeper for a local bank and eventually was promoted to teller. Four years later, in 1919, she took a position with McClure, Jones & Co., a member of the New York Stock Exchange, where she met Henry Albert Rudkin, a partner in the firm. They were married on April 8, 1923, and had three sons—Henry Jr. (1924), William (1926), and Mark (1929), all of whom attended Yale University.

In 1926 the prosperous family purchased 125 acres of property near Fairfield, Connecticut, built a Tudor mansion, a garage for five automobiles, and stables for 12 horses. They named the estate Pepperidge Farm after pepperidge trees on the property. Her husband enjoyed golf and shooting and served for years as president of the Fairfield Hunt Club, whose polo grounds were called Rudkin Field. Margaret Rudkin lived the life of a woman of leisure, exhibiting at horse shows and winning many ribbons. Their life of ease and social grace was curtailed by the Depression and by a serious polo accident in 1932 which forced Henry Rudkin to remain at home for six months. Margaret Rudkin dismissed most of the servants, sold the horses and all but one automobile, and raised money for the farm by selling apples from their orchard of 500 trees and turkeys which they raised.

When her youngest son became ill with asthma at the age of nine, Margaret Rudkin developed an interest in proper food. She got out her Irish grandmother's recipe for whole wheat bread with its old-fashioned ingredients— stone-milled flour, honey, molasses, sugar syrup, milk, cream, and butter—and baked her first loaf of bread at the age of 40. The first loaf was "hard as a rock" but further experimentation produced a quality loaf. The bread seemed to improve Mark's health, and his allergist asked her to make bread for him and for his other patients. In 1937 Margaret Rudkin began making small batches with the help of a servant, later setting up a small bakery in an abandoned farm building and selling extra loaves to her own grocer. Expanding to an old-fashioned white bread made with unbleached flour, she tested it on the manager of Charles & Co., a specialty food store in New York City, who ordered 24 loaves daily, delivered at first by her husband on his way to Wall Street. Soon the order was 1,200 loaves a week, necessitating trucking. In a year the bakery was producing 4,000 loaves weekly.

Demand grew rapidly although the bread sold for twice the price of mass-produced bread. Enthusiastic articles in the New York Journal and American, Herald Tribune, and World Telegram promoted the products, and an article in the December 1939 Reader's Digest brought orders from all over the United States, Canada, and several foreign countries. To meet the demand, Rudkin had to borrow $15,000 in 1940 to move the bakery to Norwalk, Connecticut, where weekly volume exceeded 50,000 loaves of bread the first year. She refused to compromise on quality as business expanded.

In the years that followed, Pepperidge Farm grew into a major national firm. Margaret Rudkin served as president and looked after the daily production. Her husband gradually gave up his Wall Street position to handle finances, marketing, and sales as chairman. Two sons, Henry and William, were vice presidents of the firm. They moved to a bigger plant in Norwalk and later opened plants in Pennsylvania in 1947 and Illinois in 1953. Several restored grist mills stone-ground the flour, and Rudkin supplied her own top grade wheat bought in Minneapolis.

Initially, the firm had done little advertising, letting the products stand on their own merits and word-of-mouth reputation. In 1950 that policy changed with the appearance of Margaret Rudkin in television commercials. During this decade the list of products expanded as she purchased a frozen pastry line from a New Hampshire company and fancy cookie recipes from a firm in Belgium. Expansion eventually included 58 products including rolls, coffee cake, pound cake, Melba toast, herb-seasoned stuffing made from stale loaves returned by grocers, and fancy cocktail snacks called Goldfish.

The Rudkins sold the business to the Campbell Soup Company in 1960, exchanging the Pepperidge Farm assets for Campbell stock worth about $28 million. Even so, Margaret Rudkin continued to operate Pepperidge Farm as a separate company and, in addition, became a director of Campbell Soup. In 1962 she yielded the presidency to her son William and replaced her husband as chairman. Five months after her husband's death she retired in September 1966 and died on June 1, 1967 at the age of 69 of cancer. At that time the annual sales were 70 million loaves of bread.

Her interest in food led Margaret Rudkin to collect ancient cookbooks. She drew on her knowledge of food in writing The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook (1963), which became a best seller. Her business acumen was recognized by invitations to lecture at the Harvard School of Business Administration. In later years the Rudkins maintained a home at Hobe Sound, Florida, and an ancestral manor house and 150 acres, purchased in 1953, at County Carlow, Ireland, where they spent summers.

Further Reading

Biographical information appears in Sicherman and Green's Notable American Women: The Modern Period (1980). In The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook Rudkin tells about her childhood, early married life, bread making, and her family's trips to Ireland. Articles appear in Reader's Digest 35 (December 1939); Time 50 (July 14, 1947) and 75 (March 21, 1960); Newsweek 20 (September 21, 1942); The New Yorker (November 16, 1963); and New York Times (December 4, 1949); and her obituary appeared in the New York Times on June 2, 1967. □

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