Friday, March 16, 2018

Bread Nostalgia

I was just thinking about Wonder Bread, and trying to remember why my family didn't buy that brand when I was a kid. It may have been because it wasn't fully national in the 1960s and 70s, or maybe because it was more expensive, or maybe we were loyal to a local brand.

I think that last reason may have been it. My recollection is that we generally bought Stroehmann's bread, which I now know was based in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The loaves we purchased were probably made in Sayre, just across the New York/Pennsylvania border from my county.

Stroehmann's was represented in ads and on the packaging by the Sunbeam Bread girl:

She was a franchised brand developed by the Quality Bakers of America marketing co-op in 1942. The illustration was done by a woman named Ellen Segner, who generated hundreds of sketches of the concept before the co-op settled on the gold and blue curly-haired girl I identify with bread and butter to this day.

In looking into this, I discovered that Stroehmann's was bought first by a Canadian company, Weston Foods in 1978, which was later bought by Grupo Bimbo (a Mexico-based baked goods company) in 2008. Bimbo also owns Arnold, Freihofer, Entenmann's, Thomas', Brownberry, and Sara Lee.

This makes me sad about corporate consolidation, and wish that I knew more about the history of all these separate companies. Here's the little bit I can find out:

Arnold: Started in 1940 by Dean and Betty Arnold in Stamford, Connecticut. This is the company that bought Levy's, they of the famous 1960s advertising slogan, "You Don't Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy's."
Brownberry: Based originally in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, and started by Catherine Clark in 1946. Sold in the mid-1990s.
Freihofer's: Started by three German brothers in the Albany, New York, area in 1913.
Entenmann's: Opened in Brooklyn in 1898 by a German immigrant. Later moved to Long Island. They started selling their famous chocolate chip cookies in 1972. The company was first acquired by a large corporation in 1978 and changed hands at least five times before being acquired by Bimbo.
Sara Lee: Started in Chicago, maybe in the 1940s, and named for the daughter of the founder. Acquired as early as 1956, so that accounts for its early roll-out as a national brand.
Stroehmann's: Also started around 1900 by a German immigrant, but the brand I knew was a remnant of the original company, run by his sons, the father having sold out to Wonder Bread in the mid-1920s. I gather that Stroehmann's owned Taystee as well.
Thomas': Started in 1880 in New York City by Samuel Thomas, an English immigrant.

Bakery consolidation was a bit like brewery consolidation in the 20th century. I wonder if there's as much local activity on the craft bread front as there has been in craft brewing? It doesn't seem like it, at least not in terms of brand identities.


Here are a few more pieces of Ellen Segner's art. And some more. She also was responsible for the Dick and Jane early readers!

I'm only posting two images. First, this sketch to show her drawing ability:

And then this painting, which represents the way she portrayed women in active roles much of the time (in contrast with the habits of male illustrators):

And here's the artist herself, in an undated photo from Quality Bakers of America, posing with the then-current model for Miss Sunbeam, six-year-old Donna Kay Ericksen of Champaign, Illinois:

Segner died in 2001.


Science IT and Leisure said...


Gina said...

Wow. I cannot remember what brand bread my mother bought when I was growing up. I don't think it was Wonder Bread, but I didn't pay that much attention to it. I really like Brownberry bread now because they don't use high fructose corn syrup in their bread. I do love Segner's art. Thanks for digging into this!

Michael Leddy said...

Why does the terrible bread get the good art? We were an Arnold/Pepperidge Farm family. My mom and grandparents were specialists in cracking the codes that indicated the sell-by date.

Brownberry is a favorite in my house. I used to make imaginary commercials about it for our kids: “Friends, is your bread weak, bland, uninspiring? Friends! Try Grown-up Bread — in the dark red package. Yes, Grown-up Bread,” etc.

Daughter Number Three said...

I became a fan of Brownberry's bread when I moved to the Midwest in 1986.

Pepperidge Farm! Yes, I had forgotten about them, probably because I mostly know them for their cookies. That bakery was founded in 1937 by Margaret Rudkin in Fairfield, Connecticut. It was named after her family's land there, which was named for the pepperidge tree. (I have never heard Nyssa sylvatica called that name until this minute; I'm more familiar with it under the common name tupelo).

Pepperidge Farm was bought by Campbell's Soup in 1961, so that's another fairly early example of corporate consolidation (and product category diversification, I guess).