Margaret Rudkin: Business Executive 1897-1967
Margaret Rudkin started Pepperidge Farm, one of the nation’s largest baking companies, in her Fairfield home in 1937. Looking for a natural bread that would not aggravate her son’s allergies, she started baking her own loaves from simple ingredients, and soon began to sell them to local grocers. From that small start, she built a company that now does over $1 billion of sales in 45 countries.
Margaret and her husband, stockbroker Henry Rudkin, met while working at the New York brokerage firm of McClure, Jones, and in 1929 moved to the 125-acre Fairfield estate they called Pepperidge Farm. In 1937, Rudkin started selling her bread, and the New York doctor she had consulted about her son’s allergies recommended it to some of his other patients. Within a year, she was selling 4,000 loaves a week and employing local people to bake and deliver the bread. In 1947 she moved the operation out of her home to a modern facility in Norwalk. To keep up with growing demand, she added new products when she discovered them, such as European-style cookies, frozen pastry, and the iconic Goldfish crackers. Even as the company grew, Rudkin knew all her employees by name and provided better than average wages and benefits – including an in-house cafeteria and the chance to buy Pepperidge Farm bread at half price.
In 1961, the Rudkins sold Pepperidge Farm to Campbell Soup Company, and Margaret Rudkin became the first woman to serve on that company’s board. In 1963, the Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, became the first cookbook ever to break onto The New York Times Best Sellers List. At a time when women were rarely seen at the heads of large companies, she was recognized as an important business leader, lecturing at elite business schools and gatherings in the U.S. and Europe.