A forefather of the modern baking industry, Gordon Smith (1882-1974) was inducted into the A.S.B. Baking Hall of Fame as not only founder of Smith Bakeries, Mobile, Ala., but also organizer of the Allied Trades of the Baking Industry (A.T.B.I.).
Born above his family’s New Orleans bakery, Mr. Smith was a young man when he moved to Mobile in 1899 to run a small grocery store bakery. Offered the reins of ownership, he quickly turned a failing venture into a prosperous business. He actively directed Smith’s Bakeries for 65 years, and he took full advantage of rapidly evolving bakery technology to create a vital five-plant organization that dominated the wholesale bakery business in Alabama, Mississippi, western Florida and eastern Louisiana. Among other accomplishments, Smith’s Bakeries introduced wrapped and sliced bread to its service region and built a national business with fruitcake.
When the U.S. entered World War I, the federal government asked bakers to voluntarily cut their wheat usage by 25%. Mr. Smith led an initiative to get bakers to help each other solve the technical problems caused by this request.
In 1953, Mr. Smith described his love for his adopted hometown, its citizens and the baking industry, speaking to Mobile’s Rotary Club about “Baking is My Gospel.” His remarkable address now resides in the library of Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.
After 90 years of family management, Smith’s Bakeries became the foundation of CooperSmith Bakeries, a new breed of companies that restructured the baking industry during the late 20th century.
Soon after arriving in Mobile, Mr. Smith willingly applied his skills to help raise funds for local charities such as the United Orphans Fund and Community Chest, the forerunners of organizations that remain active in the community to this day.
His compassion for his employees, customers and neighbors was a commitment he extended to his vendors and suppliers, when he spurred formation of A.T.B.I. in 1920.
Mr. Smith believed in fair business practices and that the relationship between customer and supplier must benefit both. By 1920, he became increasingly concerned about the fractious nature of the baking trades. To foster comity, he challenged the salesmen who called on his bakery to adopt better relations through participating in a professional association of their peers. The idea caught on, and A.T.B.I. was formed to foster this change.
In 1952, the group gratefully named Mr. Smith the “Daddy of the Allied Trades” and granted him honorary lifetime membership.
A.T.B.I. has survived the test of time, helping its members grow in their personal and professional relationships, and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020. It is an organization unique in the food industry.