Margaret Fogarty Rudkin

Margaret Fogarty Rudkin
"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

Induction Category:
Business & Labor

Born: 1898

Died: 1967

Inducted: 1994

Town: Fairfield

Margaret Fogarty Rudkin did not set out to become one of the most successful businesswomen in the country when she baked a single loaf of bread in 1937 in her Fairfield, Conn., kitchen. She was merely trying to find a solution to her son’s severe allergy problem that prevented him from eating commercially available bread. Nevertheless, her entrepreneurial drive and business acumen resulted in the founding of Pepperidge Farm Inc., one of the largest baking companies in the United States, with headquarters located in Norwalk, Conn.

Margaret Fogarty was born and raised in New York City, the oldest of five children. After graduating valedictorian of her high school class, she went to work on Wall Street, where she met and married broker Henry Rudkin in 1923. Six years later, the couple built a house in Fairfield and named it Pepperidge Farm after an old pepperidge tree located on the property. During the Great Depression, the Rudkins supplemented their income by selling apples from their orchard and turkeys raised at Pepperidge Farm.

In addition to the financial challenges of the Depression, the Rudkins were faced with the medical issues of their youngest son, who suffered from severe allergy-induced asthma. On the advice of her doctor, Margaret Rudkin developed a loaf of nutritious whole-wheat bread based on her Irish grandmother’s recipe. Soon, her son’s health improved and his doctor requested loaves to “prescribe” to his other patients. As the demand for her bread grew, she began selling to local grocers. Three years after the start of her endeavor, the bakery expanded and moved to Norwalk.

Serious shortages plagued the Farm during the World War II years as many of the necessary ingredients were drastically rationed. The company opened its first modern bakery in Norwalk in 1947, and by 1953 it was producing 77,000 loaves of bread each week. Pepperidge Farm cookies were later added to the line. The company continued to expand with the opening of bakeries in Pennsylvania and Illinois. In addition, Margaret Rudkin began to appear in television commercials promoting Pepperidge Farm products. She made frequent trips to Europe in order to add new products to the company line. In 1961, Pepperidge Farm was sold to the Campbell Soup Company; however, Margaret Rudkin continued her leadership and became the first woman to serve on the Campbell Soup Board of Directors. In 2007, Fortune magazine’s “100 Years of Power” named her the most powerful woman in business for 1950-1960.

After her retirement in 1962, Margaret Rudkin lectured at Harvard Business School and wrote The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, which became the first cookbook on the New York Times bestseller list. Rudkin died in New Haven in 1967.

During This Time
1946 - 1965: Women’s Activism in Conservative Times