A pioneer in the development of self-rising flour, self-rising corn meal, and later the packaged-mix southern hotbread, Martha White Foods has long been associated with country music and radio. In 1963 the company introduced the first in the line of family-serving size packages, BixMix, to offer the young homemaker the chance to make the same kind of biscuits her mother made, but more easily. A full line of pouch mix products followed.
Unlike many brand symbols, Martha White was a real person. In 1899 her father, Richard Lindsey, who operated the Royal Flour Mill in Nashville, named his finest flour brand for her. Cohen E. Williams and his sons acquired the Royal Flour Mill and the Martha White name in 1941; the name has symbolized quality baking products ever since. Martha White Flour Company benefited from strong individual leadership, with Williams as chairman while his son, Cohen T. Williams, served as president. In 1967 the younger Williams became chairman with James R. King and then Robert V. Dale as president. In 1975 Martha White merged with Beatrice Companies and remained a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chicago-based firm until 1987. Though the company changed hands several times from that point until 1994, Dale remained president until the Pillsbury Company purchased it in 1994.
In the early years Martha White concentrated on country music, another important product of Nashville, to carry its advertising message. Starting in 1947, the company-sponsored 5:45 a.m. radio program called Martha White Biscuit and Cornbread Time helped many Grand Ole Opry performers get their start in Nashville. Martha White sponsored its first show on Nashville’s famed Grand Ole Opry in 1948 and remains today part of that Saturday night tradition. In 1953 the company hired Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys to tour the South as spokesmen for Martha White. The group went on to become the nation’s number one bluegrass music group, and over the years its name became synonymous with Martha White. During an appearance at Carnegie Hall, Flatt and Scruggs played the famous Martha White jingle after requests were shouted from the audience. After Flatt and Scruggs disbanded, Tennessee Ernie Ford became spokesman for Martha White in 1972. His down-home personality combined with his tremendous popularity helped Martha White bridge the gap between rural and urban consumers, and Ford’s association with the company continued through the 1980s. In 1995 Martha White sponsored Alison Krauss and Union Station’s 1996 and 1997 tours, carrying on Martha White’s long tradition of support for country and bluegrass music.