McKee - Career &
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
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
-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.
-Started a side business raising chickens. (Business destroyed by fire
-In 1931 he worked as a car salesman. (Bought a used car and quit after
-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
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
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
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
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
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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Bill Cosby Bill Clinton Charlie Chaplin
Dick Van Dyke Duncan
Hines Elvis Presley
Larry King Little Debbie
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Ozzy Osbourne Milton
Ulysses Grant Wally
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