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Cook's Country

The Secret History of Little Debbie

What you don’t know about the origins of this popular brand.
By Published Sept. 21, 2022

We all know and love Little Debbie, the auburn-haired, freckle-speckled youngster who graces the packages of our favorite baked goods. From her famous Oatmeal Creme Pies (which you can learn to whip up at home) to her delicious Fudge Rounds, she made America’s childhoods’ sweet.

So what’s Little Debbie’s story? Where did she come from? Who is she, really?

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The story of Debbie, her name, and the company that bears it is an interesting one, but it really all starts with her grandfather, an enterprising young man named O.D. Mckee.

O. D. McKee, who created the Oatmeal Creme Pie—the cookie upon which he and his wife, Ruth, built the Little Debbie snack empire—got his start in sales in Mississippi as a young teenager going door to door persuading people to buy books. Though dyslexia and a stutter meant he struggled to read and often floundered in school, he possessed a preternatural knack for business.

After the family lost its savings in a bank failure in the 1930s Great Depression, O. D. found work as a traveling cookie salesman for a bakery in Chattanooga, parlaying his success in that role into becoming the owner of Jack’s Cookie Company. Jack’s had three cookies (oatmeal, vanilla, and raisin), each selling for $0.01 each. But O. D. was an innovator, adding a soft oatmeal sandwich cookie to the menu that the bakery could sell for $0.05.

The Oatmeal Creme Pie immediately increased the bakery’s profits and went on to become a huge success, driving the growth of the family business and becoming the first and most enduring snack cake under the Little Debbie brand (named after O.D. and Ruth’s granddaughter).

And today this molasses-y cookie pie remains one of the most beloved lunchbox snacks among schoolchildren and big kids alike. Our only wish is that you could still get them for $0.05 a piece . . .