For O.D. McKee and wife, Ruth, it was the American dream—own a business, raise a family. But a lot stood in their way as the newly married McKee began selling snack cakes for a nickel a piece from the back of his car. When many businesses were going under during the Great Depression, he was determined to beat the odds. Little did he know then, those small confections were just the beginning of a family legacy and would lead to some sweet success.
As the snack cakes sold and their dreams seemed to become a reality, the McKees put up their 1928 Whippet automobile as collateral to buy a small bakery in the Chattanooga area. But the American dream didn’t come with guarantees. The growing family lived in the back of the bakery, separated from their tiny workspace by only a sheet hung from the ceiling. But after putting in years of hard work, the small family bakery began to see a profit and in 1957, made the move to Collegedale, Tennessee.
Just a few short years later, everything would change for McKee Baking Company. In 1960, the family was set to roll out their first family pack of the beloved little snack cakes. While deciding on a name for the line of snacks, McKee found inspiration from a black-and-white photo of four-year-old Debbie, his granddaughter. Something clicked when he looked at the picture of the little girl with her innocent grin, wide eyes, and favorite straw hat. Pearl Mann, an artist from Atlanta, was hired to create the brand’s logo. When the logo was complete, Debbie had been brought to life through color and aged to around eight or nine.
In August of that year, the Oatmeal Creme Pie family packs hit shelves, featuring the sweet face of none other than its namesake, Little Debbie. Rumor has it that Debbie’s parents, Ellsworth and Sharon McKee had no idea their daughter’s image was being used for the new logo until the printing of the first carton. The launch quickly made Little Debbie a household name and a lunchbox staple.
Since the introduction of Little Debbie, McKee Foods Corporation (since 1991) has expanded to include multiple brands including Sunbelt Bakery, Heartland, and Drake’s. But no other confection brand has earned affection and loyalty quite like Little Debbie. Still owned and operated by the McKee family, the brand has sealed its place as the leader in snack cakes and has respectfully earned its place in Southern Americana. A sweet face for a sweet treat.
More Little Debbie Photos Here