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O.D. McKee - Career & Financial Facts

Would O.D. McKee (creator of Little Debbie® snacks) have imagined the business success he would eventually achieve as he worked pulling corn for 50 cents a day, and lived in a tiny log house that had been built for slaves? O.D. was an entrepreneur at heart, and when he met a traveling cookies salesman by chance, he somehow knew that trade could help him achieve more. However, what he may not have known was that while he was working as a cookie salesman going from store to store selling someone else's products, he was taking the first steps to creating a snack empire!

Oatmeal Crème Pies, Swiss Cake Rolls, Nutty Bars and Honey Buns. Sound familiar? You probably have enjoyed one (or many more) of these popular baked goodies sold under the Little Debbie® brand. McKee Foods Corporation has sold more than 157 billion Little Debbie® snacks since the brand became available in 1960, and by 2005 the company was earning over $1 billion a year.

Here are 16 entertaining facts about the Little Debbie® brand of snacks.

1. Before getting into baked goods O.D. McKee floundered professionally. Some of the jobs he did included:
 -Selling religious books door to door. (Did this off and on for many years)
 -In 1928 he worked as an assistant manager for a publishing company. Was paid $12.50 a week. (Quit)
 -Facilities manager at a college for room/board/and $12.50 a month. (Quit)
 -Started a side business raising chickens. (Business destroyed by fire accident)
 -In 1931 he worked as a car salesman. (Bought a used car and quit after 3 weeks)
 -Cared for patients in a sanitarium. (Quit after several months)
 -Worked as farm hand pulling corn and picking apples for 50 cents per day. (Quit after he wasn't paid)
 -In 1933 he became a baked goods salesman for Virginia Dare in Chattanooga.  So during the height of the Great Depression, O.D. McKee began peddling snack cakes from the back of his 1929 Whippet car.

2. As mentioned above, O.D. was 16 when he began his first paying job selling religious books door to door. His parents fronted him the $30 needed to get started and the books cost between $4.50 and $6.50. By the end of the first summer O.D. had broken even, but learned valuable sales skills. During his 2nd and 3rd summers he was also able to earn a full college scholarship through the company he sold the books for. In fact he sold enough books each summer during college to earn scholarships not just for himself, but his brother as well. He took courses at Southern College in Collegedale, but he had dyslexia and never finished.

3. O.D. also had several part time jobs in college. He was a janitorial supervisor and was paid 15 cents per hour. He gave haircuts for 25 cents each, and he also cleaned and ironed men's suits for 75 cents per suit.

4. When O.D.'s second child was born he didn’t have the $10 to pay the doctor so he gave him his only cow (valued at $40).

5. The company was founded in 1934 when O.D. and Ruth McKee bought Jack’s Cookie Company, a small bakery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He also paid off the company's immediate debt by pawning the family truck for $200. They converted this cookie shop into a "5 cent bakery" with 3 employees (in 2008 the family's company employed 6,300 people), and started baking small cakes. Due to their hard work they were able to get their truck back and save $1,000 in just a few weeks of starting their bakery.

6. O.D. McKee first began experimenting with hard oatmeal cookies in his bake shop in 1935. He made formula changes to make the cookie soft, then sandwiched two cookies together with a fluffy crème filling. He sold his "crème pies" for a nickel a piece.

7. In 1946 the McKee family moved to Charlotte and start a bakery there. In 1948 McKee sold the Charlotte bakery to Herman Lay, who later started the Lay's Potato Chip empire. Lay soon came back to McKee and told him he "couldn't do anything with it and wanted him to take it back."

8. Money was so tight they had to had to sell their home and move into the back of the Charlotte bakery. They used a bed sheet to separate the family's living from the rest of the bakery. In 1951 the family moved back to Chattanooga and started another bakery. The business was known as McKee Baking Company from the 1950s until 1991, when the name was changed to McKee Foods Corporation.

9. Despite years of great adversity, O.D. and Ruth's rare determination finally began to pay off in 1960 when they began selling the first family pack of baked goods. Around this time, the company finally began making a steady profit.

10. Perhaps the catalyst to the company's success was a picture of McKee's 4 year old granddaughter, Debbie. McKee was trying to come up with a catchy name for their new family-pack cartons of snack cakes in 1960. Packaging supplier Bob Mosher suggested using a family member's name. McKee looked at a photo of Debbie in play clothes and her favorite straw hat and realized she should be the face of the snack company! The famous Little Debbie picture (in cowgirl outfit) was originally taken because her mom got a coupon in the mail for $1 off portraits at Olan Mills in 1960.

11. McKee Foods was the first bakery to sell individually wrapped cakes in a multi-pack carton. In 1960 the company introduced the Little Debbie brand and began selling the individually wrapped cakes in multi-pack cartons. A carton of 12 cakes had a suggested retail price of 49 cents at that time. 12 cakes would have cost 60 cents if sold separately.

12. After its initial introduction, more than 14 million cakes were sold within 10 months.

13. Not until the first cartons were being printed did Debbie's parents, Ellsworth and Sharon McKee, discover that their daughter was the namesake of the new brand.

14. In 2005, the company reached more than $1 billion in sales.

15. Now there are over 150 varieties of Little Debbie snacks, and 200 million cartons of its top selling products are sold every year.

16. Little Debbie® snacks have even orbited the earth on the space shuttle, traveling more than 17,500 miles an hour. Little Debbie® Fudge Brownies were one of Elvis Presley’s favorite snacks. If you lined up all the Little Debbie snacks that have been sold over the years, they would cover 9.9 million miles – enough to circle the earth almost 400 times!

More sources and facts about O.D. McKee and Little Debbie
Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 1   Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 2   Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 3   Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 4
Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 5   Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 6   Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 7   Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 8
Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 9   Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 10   Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 11  Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 12
Little Debbie Trivia and Facts 13

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Andrew Carnegie  Barack Obama  Bill Cosby  Bill Clinton  Charlie Chaplin  Dick Van Dyke  Duncan Hines Elvis Presley  Frank Sinatra
Jerry Seinfeld  John Rockefeller  Larry King  Little Debbie  Lucille Ball  Harrison Ford 
Harry Truman  Henry Ford Henry Heinz
Ozzy Osbourne  Milton Hershey  Rick Harrison  Richard Sears 
Ulysses Grant  Wally Amos  William McKinley  William Wrigley

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