No matter how many Goldfish and Milanos you’ve eaten, you may not know how tasty Pepperidge Farm’s history has been.
1. A Devoted Mom and a Son With Allergies Started It All.
The Pepperidge Farm story starts in Fairfield, Conn. in 1937. When Margaret Rudkin’s youngest son, John, developed asthma and allergies that made it impossible for him to eat commercially produced breads, the family doctor recommended that the boy switch to freshly baked whole wheat bread with no preservatives. Rudkin had never baked a loaf of bread in her life, but she did what any mom would do and gave it a shot.
Rudkin’s early returns weren’t promising—she would later joke, “My first loaf 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." Gradually, Rudkin got the hang of baking, and before long, she was cranking out delicious breads.
2. It Was a Premium Brand Right From the Start.
Rudkin’s loaves were both tasty and effective—her son showed such improvement from eating the wholesome bread that his doctor recommended Rudkin’s handiwork to other parents of sick children. Before long, Rudkin was selling her bread to Mercurio’s Market in Fairfield. Each of Rudkin’s loaves sold for 25 cents at a time when most bread retailed for a dime, but shoppers were willing to pay a premium for the upstart baker’s wares.
3. The Pepperidge Farm Name Was an Easy Choice.
The brand takes its name from the 320-acre Connecticut estate the Rudkins began calling home in 1929. The farm itself was named for an enormous pepperidge tree that stood in the front yard of the home. If you’re not familiar with the pepperidge tree, it’s better known as the black tupelo and also goes by the names “sour gum” and “black gum.”
4. Pepperidge Farm Was a Real Mom-and-Pop Operation.
Margaret Rudkin was the baking muscle of the brand, but her husband, Henry, also played a role in the company’s growth. As demand for the bread grew, he converted the family’s garage into a bakery. When a specialty shop in New York City learned of Margaret’s breads and began placing orders, Henry began ferrying 24 loaves of bread with him on his commute to his job at a Wall Street brokerage, stopping in Grand Central Station to hand off the goods. As the company grew, Henry Rudkin left finance to become chairman of Pepperidge Farm’s board.
5. The Cookies Have a Belgian Flair.
After Margaret Rudkin became a bread mogul, she began looking for new opportunities for the company in the early 1950s. Cookies seemed like a logical place to start, and to crack that market, Rudkin had to forge an international alliance. She had tasted a line of sophisticated cookies on a visit to Belgium, and rather than creating new sweet recipes from scratch, Rudkin agreed to license the cookies from Brussels bakery Delacre, and Pepperidge Farm’s Distinctive cookies rolled out in 1955 with longtime favorites like the Brussels and the Geneva.
6. Milanos Were Originally Created to Solve a Shipping Problem.
Not all of the cookies were European creations. In fact, the company’s most famous cookie is all American. As Leon Neyfakh notes in a 2012 Slate piece, the Milano can trace its heritage back to a similarly Italian-themed cookie of the 1950s, the Naples. The open-faced chocolate cookie sounds tasty enough, but when Pepperidge Farm started shipping its cookies nationwide, hot temperatures would soften the chocolate during transit, which mean customers were treated to a brick of melted-together cookies. The solution? Slapping a top on the cookie, rebranding the resulting sandwich as the Milano, and creating a sweet juggernaut.
7. Goldfish Are a Swiss Snack.
Margaret Rudkin’s eye for licensing went beyond cookies. When she encountered a delightful fish-shaped cracker on a trip to Switzerland in the early 1960s, she brought the recipe home with her. In 1962—one year after the Campbell Soup Company acquired Pepperidge Farm—American snackers began munching on Goldfish crackers. The introduction went pretty well—by one estimate, Pepperidge Farm now makes 3,000 Goldfish per second.
8. Pepperidge Farm Played a Key Role in the Apollo 13 Mission.
Dehydrated ice cream and Tang get all the publicity as astronaut delicacies, but Pepperidge Farm bread came through in the clutch during the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. The flight crew took loaves of Pepperidge Farm white, rye, and a special astronauts-only cheese bread into orbit with them. When things went awry, the more complicated space foods that required water to prepare were no longer feasible, so the three-man crew largely survived on sandwiches made using peanut butter, cheese, and various salad spreads. As a contemporary news report noted, “Every slice of bread that went up on Apollo 13 was eaten...Bread was truly an important part of their life support system.”
9. The Logo Wasn’t Inspired By the Pepperidge Farm.
The picturesque grist mill in the company’s logo is real, but it’s not a part of the Pepperidge Farm. In fact, it’s not even in the same state. The Wayside Inn Grist Mill in Sudbury, Mass. is a quirky project commissioned by Henry Ford in the 1920s that painstakingly repurposed antique French millstones to create “the first working mill to be built as a museum.” The mill’s association with Pepperidge Farm began in 1952. The company leased the mill, hired a miller, and began using the antiquated equipment to produce some of its flour. The arrangement lasted until 1967, with the mill providing Pepperidge Farm with more than 9000 tons of flour over 15 years and inspiring the company’s logo.
10. Home Cooks Were Desperate to Get Rudkin’s Secrets.
When the baking mogul released The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook in 1963, she admitted, “Two years ago when some of my friends suggested I write a cookbook, I didn’t give it a serious thought at first.” Listening to her pals paid off in a big way, though. Pepperidge Farm devotees were happy to shell out the cover price to learn Rudkin’s culinary tricks, and Rudkin’s work sold so well that it cracked the New York Times bestseller list, a first for a cookbook.
11. The Company Tried to Launch Its Own Cookie-Themed Social Network.
In 2007, social media and social networking were still relatively new concepts. Pepperidge Farm wanted in, so the brand took a crack at connecting with women by starting its own social network. As a New York Times story noted, “The centerpiece of the campaign is the Web site, artofthecookie.com, which is meant to help women — the target audience for Pepperidge Farm — improve their social lives.” The network was meant to give women a place to talk about both cookies and their thoughts, but it never took off. Unlike the proprietors of countless other failed social networks, at least Pepperidge Farm had selling Milanos as a fallback plan.