February 7, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Newman Drake

There was nothing in Newman Drake's background that indicated he would have a successful career as a baker. Drake left school in 1873 at 13 and gained employment as a ship's cabin boy and later a carpenter. He worked as a repairman on the Lackawanna Railroad. And now, in 1896, after eight years of preparation in his chosen craft, his first day sales of $3.24 did not bode well for his baking future.

In 1888 Drake was travelling in England selling biscuit machinery when he discovered a fast-selling, mass-produced pound cake called a "slab cake." Grocers would slice slabs of the ready-made cake for customers who didn't feel like home-baking. In America wholesale baking of biscuits was common but cakes were still the exclusive province of daily bakeries and home kitchens.

Drake returned to the United States and set about developing a recipe for wholesale baking of pound cakes and arranging financing. He invented the machinery necessary to mass produce cake. A friend helped construct a bakery in Harlem and Drake's first cakes were ready for sale in 1896. He hired a salesman who reported back with the $3.24 and a disheartening message that delicatessens and groceries were not ready to accept mass-produced cakes.

Drake began extensive missionary work on behalf of his pound cake. He personally visited hundreds of retailers explaining how the slab cakes sold in England. His one consolation was that there was no competition. Slowly his slab cakes gained acceptance among retailers.

In 1899 the emerging colossus of the National Biscuit Company purchased the Drake Baking Company and appointed Newman Drake as manager. But Drake had just begun to taste the success of independent enterprise. He left in 1900 to form the Drake Brothers Company with his brother Charles, who had left the Drake Baking Company in its early days to sell jams and preserves.

The Drake brothers began with $5000 and five horse-and-wagon delivery vehicles. Newman Drake had conquered the skepticism of retailers and now tackled the doubts of housewives. He reduced the portions of his recipes so housewives could replicate his "Pure Food" cakes and compare them with their own.

The strategy worked and sales gradually grew to surpass one million dollars annually by 1913. Wax paper was developed during World War I which enabled Drake to individually package his cakes. Popular Drake coffee cakes were introduced in 1916 and sales surged further.

By the early 1920s Drake's health began to fail and he sought more time for his avocations of travel and hunting. He sold the company in 1924 while remaining as Chairman of the Board in the new organization. Drake spent the remaining years of his life near his birthplace of Andover, New Jersey devoting his resources to Sussex County. He donated a park and erected the town's first movie house. He often had deliveries made to fill coal bins of poor families throughout the area without explanation.

Newman Drake died in 1930 at the age of 70. Drake's was ultimately acquired by Borden's in 1946 and the last family member left the original cake and pie company in 1954.

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