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BAIRD, NINIA LILLA [NINNIE]

BAIRD, NINIA LILLA [NINNIE] (1869–1961). Ninia Lilla (Ninnie) Baird, founder of Mrs Baird's Bakeries, Inc., was born on May 23, 1869, in Gibson County, Tennessee, daughter of Elisha and Amanda Elizabeth (Hunt) Harrison. Her mother died when Ninnie was five years old. Her father remarried and she lived with her father and stepmother until her father died in 1882. She lived with her aunt for the next three years, until she met William Allen Baird, who was also an orphan. They were married in 1886, when Ninnie was seventeen years old and William was nineteen. The couple settled near Trenton, Tennessee, where William built a house on family land and worked as a woodcutter. They moved in 1898 to Obion, Tennessee, where he was in the restaurant and bakery business. In 1901 the family, now with four children, moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where William introduced the first steam popcorn machine to the city at Seventh and Main streets. The bright red machine with its brass fittings and steam whistle became an instant success, and within eight months another one followed, at Fifth and Main. The success of the popcorn machines gave William the capital to buy another restaurant, for which Ninnie was the baker. She gained a reputation for her excellent bread, cakes, and pies.

Not long afterward, William became ill with diabetes, an untreatable disease in those days. By this time, the family had grown to eight children, and the three oldest, Bess, Dewey, and Hoyt, worked with their father and mother in the restaurant learning the bakery trade. All of the baking was done with a four-loaf, wood-burning oven that required splitting of wood and stoking to keep a constant temperature. The restaurant was recognized for its bakery products and had a thriving business in the neighborhood. With her husband's failing health, Ninnie recognized that she could make a living baking bread. She sold the restaurant and in 1908 founded Mrs. Baird's Bread. William Baird died in 1911.

The eight children—Bess, Dewey, Hoyt, Roland, Lorine, C.B., Marjorie, and Ruth—all helped in various ways. The boys helped bake and deliver by bicycle, and the girls took care of chores and the smaller children. Bess worked outside of the house to bring in extra money, as the business was still just getting off the ground.

In 1915 Mrs. Baird's Bread purchased a used commercial oven from the Metropolitan Hotel for $75, paid by $25 in cash and the balance in bread and rolls. This oven had the capacity of 40 loaves. The business acquired a horse and wagon in 1917, with Hoyt Baird as driver. A new bakery was built in 1918 at Sixth Avenue and Terrell. Business expanded to Dallas in 1928. By now Ninnie Baird was turning the operation over to the boys, but kept a tight hand on the operations as the country was in a depression. In 1938 the business expanded to Houston and built a new bread plant in Fort Worth. Each of the boys was now running a plant.

World War II brought many changes to the bakery business due to the shortage of ingredients and personnel. Ninnie and the boys limited their products to the bare necessities—white, wheat, and buns. After the war, the business continued to expand with a new plant built in Abilene in 1949 and acquisitions in Victoria, Lubbock, Waco, and Austin. By the 1950s Ninnie, now in her eighties, began to decline, though she remained chairman of the board. Upon her death on June 3, 1961, the company had grown to nine plants with over 2,500 employees and was the largest independent, family-owned bakery in the country. Today the Ninnie L. Baird Foundation continues her legacy of improving the life for children and families through family preservation, education, and nutrition.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

American Weekly, July 25, 1954. Food Herald, September 1983. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 3, 1961. Texas Senate Resolution 13, July 19, 1961. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Byron Baird

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Byron Baird, "BAIRD, NINIA LILLA [NINNIE]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbaeq), accessed November 24, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.