Mrs. Baird’s Bakeries, Inc., founded in 1908, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Grupo Industrial Bimbo S.A. de C.V, a Mexican multinational corporation and the largest baking company in the world.
Ninia “Ninnie” Lilla Harrison started baking when she was living with her aunt in Trenton, Tennessee. When Ninnie was seventeen years old, she married William A. Baird, a farmer and later restaurateur. After they married, the Baird family moved to Fort Worth in 1901, where William ran a succession of small restaurants. During this period, Ninnie baked bread for her family and neighbors. By 1908 William, who suffered from diabetes, was unable to work regularly due to his declining health, and Ninnie began selling her bread to supplement the family’s income. By 1910 Ninnie was baking in a wood-burning stove in a small wooden building behind the family’s house. Her sons assisted with baking and made deliveries. William converted the family’s Phaeton buggy into a delivery wagon, and the family hired a neighbor to make deliveries and sales calls for them. Ninnie’s son Hoyt later took over as delivery driver. Ninnie also began selling a wider range of baked goods. In 1911, five days before Christmas, William Baird died from blood poisoning, but Ninnie continued working with the children on the growth of their home business. The demand for Ninnie’s bread expanded, and in 1915, with a commercial, gas-fired oven purchased from the Metropolitan Hotel for $75 ($50 of which was paid for with baked goods), the family could bake approximately forty loaves of bread at once. Around 1917 the family purchased and modified a Ford automobile for use as a delivery truck. They also took on their first wholesale clients.
After World War I broke out, the Bairds added Camp Bowie to the delivery routes. Hoyt enlisted in the army in 1918. The family decided in a meeting before Hoyt left to discontinue their retail deliveries and convert to a primarily wholesale business. They hired Charlie Longguth, the bakery’s iceman, to operate the new wholesale route. The family’s most important wholesale client at this time was the Sandegard chain of grocery stores. In 1919, after Hoyt returned from the army, the family purchased a lot on Sixth Avenue and Terrell Street in Fort Worth, where they constructed a brick bakery and installed a Peterson Oven, which had a capacity of approximately 400 loaves per batch. From 1919 to 1928 the new baking plant was enlarged nine times. In 1926 the Baird business incorporated as Mrs. Baird’s Bakery with Ninnie as the first chair of the board.
Around 1920 Ninnie Baird retired from the retail sales room to focus on managing the growing business. She remained active in business meetings and plant operations until 1959. By then the company owned five plants, and six million pounds of bread were produced every week. Each plant was supervised by a male Baird family member.
In the early 1920s wrapping bread became standard for commercial bakers. The first wrapping machines were semi-automated, with an operator performing part of the folding procedure. Machine-sliced bread was introduced in 1928. In November 1936 Mrs. Baird’s began hand-twisting two half-loaf pieces of bread dough into a single dough loaf. Although the continuous baking process, which involved chemically inducing bread to rise faster, was introduced in the early 1950s, Mrs. Baird’s never adopted the process and allowed its bread to rise naturally with yeast. The company advertised that “Mrs. Baird’s Stays Fresh Longer.”
In 1928 the family opened a new plant at the corner of Bryan Street and Carroll Avenue in Dallas. This new plant, headed by Ninnie’s son Roland, produced 3,500 loaves of bread per hour and shipped 125,000 loaves per week. Plant tours showcased the cleanliness of its operations. Even through the Great Depression, Mrs. Baird’s continued to grow. In 1936, 300 acres were purchased north of Arlington, which became the Baird farm. In 1938 the family opened a Houston plant, headed by Ninnie’s eldest son Dewey, and another Fort Worth plant, headed by Hoyt, with their brother C. B. taking over the original Fort Worth location, now devoted entirely to cakes. World War II provided challenges due to shortages in sugar and labor, but the Bairds overcame these obstacles by scaling its product line to only “basic baked goods,” such as white and wheat breads and hamburger and hotdog buns.
When the family built the plants in Dallas and Houston, separate companies, which had boards comprising the same members as that of Mrs. Baird’s Bakery in Fort Worth, were established in those cities (Mrs. Baird’s Bread Company in Dallas and Mrs. Baird’s Baking Company in Houston). In 1949 all three companies were merged into Mrs. Baird’s Bakeries, Inc. That year the company founded an Abilene plant, headed by Ninnie’s grandson William D. Baird. In the early 1950s, ready to expand again, Mrs. Baird’s sold the original Dallas plant and built a larger, more modern one, designed by Dallas architect George Dahl, on Mockingbird Lane near the campus of Southern Methodist University. At the time of its opening in 1953, it was the largest automated bread bakery in the world and produced two million pounds of bread per week. In 1995 the Mockingbird plant was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1959 and 1960 additional bakeries were purchased in Lubbock, Victoria, Waco, and Austin. By then Mrs. Baird’s accounted for one in every four loaves of bread sold in Texas. In 1976 the company purchased a bread plant in San Antonio. With this expansion, Mrs. Baird’s had a plant in every major city in Texas except El Paso and could reach three-fourths of the Texas population. By 1980 the company employed more than 2,500 people.
In September 1993 Mrs. Baird’s began selling products in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas. In conjunction with this rollout, Mrs. Baird’s sponsored the “Grains of Knowledge” awards, honoring exceptional Rio Grande Valley teachers. Mrs. Baird’s contributed five cents for every Mrs. Baird’s product sold in September and October of 1993 to fund the $1,000 awards to each of the ten winning teachers.
In 1994 Mrs. Baird’s and Grupo Bimbo launched a joint venture called QFS Foods to market the parent companies’ baked goods nationally. In February 1996 Mrs. Baird’s was found guilty of price-fixing, for which the court imposed a fine of $10 million. Class-action lawsuits following this decision sought damages totaling $100 million. In March 1996 Mrs. Baird’s filed for bankruptcy. The company restructured, and Larry Wheeler became the first president and CEO who was not a member of the Baird family. In 1998 Mrs. Baird’s was acquired by Grupo Bimbo. At the time of acquisition, Mrs. Baird’s Bakeries was the largest family-owned bakery in the United States.
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Ninnie L. Baird and Mrs. Baird’s Bakeries Papers, Mary Couts Burnett Library, Texas Christian University. W. Hoyt Baird, Oral History Interview, University of North Texas, Oral History Collection, No. 2023, February 14, 1980. Dallas Morning News, April 25, 2021. Joyce Hammonds, “The Story of Mrs. Baird’s Bread,” Junior Historian 26 (December 1965). Levelland Daily Sun News, March 29, 1960. “Mrs. Baird’s Bakeries – Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Mrs. Baird's Bakeries,” Advameg, Inc. (https://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history2/95/Mrs-Baird-s-Bakeries.html), accessed June 15, 2022. “Mrs. Baird’s: Cowtown Born and Bread,” Hometown by Handlebar, October 18, 2021 (https://hometownbyhandlebar.com/?p=30224), accessed June 15, 2022. “The Mrs. Baird’s Story,” Mrs. Baird’s News Published for Mrs. Baird’s Employees and Their Families 15 (September 1973). Mark Rice, “Echoes of the Twenties in East Dallas,” Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas 26 (Fall 2014). Rio Grande Herald, January 13, 1994. Helen Thorpe, “Bad News, Baird’s,” Texas Monthly, August 1996.
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