Food and Consumer
Robert C. Baker
Chicken Nugget Innovator
Robert C. Baker, who grew up in Newark, New Jersey, earned his PhD from Purdue. He became a Cornell University poultry science and food science professor after graduating from Purdue, and helped develop chicken nuggets, turkey ham and poultry hot dogs.
In 1963, Baker developed a way to keep breading attached to the nuggets during frying and enable people to eat the chicken without the breading falling off. This resulted in the popular nuggets that today are a staple in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants.
Baker also created Cornell chicken barbecue sauce, a popular sauce in the state of New York. He annually ran a chicken barbecue stand at the New York State Fair. Cornell University said President Clinton and his family asked for the sauce during their visit in 1999.
Baker founded Cornell's Institute of Food Science and Marketing in 1970. He retired in 1989 and died in 2006.
GoldRush. Pixie Crunch. CrimsonCrisp. Horticulturist Jules Janick not only creates new apple varieties, he also names his creations. The push for new varieties started as a pursuit to end apple scab.
Disease-resistant breeds meant more productivity for farmers. Over time, however, the edible qualities won over grocery consumers with fancy names suggesting flavor profiles. And Janick relishes the creativity. He even gave a nod to Star Trek with a red apple variety he dubbed The Enterprise.
Janick earned his PhD from Purdue in 1954 and quickly accepted his first fruit breeder position at 23. He didn't have to go far. The position was in Purdue's Department of Horticulture.
Joining the faculty, Janick is the James Troop Distinguished Professor of Horticulture and has created over 20 cultivars of apples and pears. As an author, he has edited and authored over 150 volumes. He founded Horticultural Reviews and Plant Breeding Reviews.
His accomplishments landed him a spot in the American Society for Horticultural Science Hall of Fame.
He is 84 and continues his tenure at Purdue.
Orville Redenbacher's desire for excellence took him to the point in life where his name is a common household term in the United States. He was raised on a small farm near Brazil, Indiana. He was a member of many state champion 4-H judging teams. He received an appointment to West Point, but chose instead to attend the Purdue College of Agriculture, where he was active in the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and an editor of the Debris, the Agriculturalist, and the Purdue Exponent.
He graduated in 1928 and became a vocational agriculture teacher for one year before joining the Indiana Cooperative Extension forces as an assistant agent in Terre Haute. Soon, he was appointed county agricultural agent and served until 1939.
He left Extension to organize Princeton Farms, then the largest farm in Indiana. He instigated many innovative programs in purebred livestock production, hybrid seed corn, and certified seed and began production of Princeton Farms popcorn. While there, he assumed positions of leadership in state programs in all the areas of agricultural production in which he was involved.
In 1952, Redenbacher and Charles Bowman organized Chester Hybrids at Valparaiso. They rapidly became a leading regional producer of hybrid corn, small grain seeds, and popcorn seed and sold agricultural equipment and supplies as well. They also packaged popping corn, but it was not until 1970 that they entered the gourmet popcorn business with Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago as their first customer.
Redenbacher died in 1995. The city of Brazil still celebrates Redenbacher's life and accomplishments with its annual Popcorn Festival.
Stove Top Stuffing Creator
Purdue graduate Ruth Siems took a simple recipe and fed America. The home economist — and mastermind behind Stove Top stuffing — launched her career at General Foods as a product researcher.
Born in 1931, Siems, a 1953 home economics graduate, made strides with cake mixes and flours at the General Foods facility in her hometown of Evansville.
After a mid-career transfer to the East Coast, Siems landed on the stuffing idea as America clamored for more options in the convenience food lineup. Launching in 1971, Stove Top was deemed savory enough for Thanksgiving, yet a foolproof go-to for weeknight meals. The secret? Siems' patent for precise bread crumb dimensions. The processing technique allowed for quick rehydration — essential for thorough stove-top preparation.
She worked at General Foods for nearly 35 years. Kraft Foods owns the brand today and sells 60 million boxes annually.
Siems died in 2005.
Frank Thomas Jr.
Ice Cream Innovator
Frank Thomas Jr. graduated from Purdue with a degree in mechanical engineering. He is credited with creating the first patented soft serve ice cream machine, founding the General Equipment Company in 1929 to distribute his creations. He also helped develop a grill that would flame-broil beef patties.
Thomas founded the successful Burger Chef fast-food chain in Indianapolis in 1954. At its peak, there were more than 1,000 stores. Thomas sold the business to General Foods in 1968, and Hardee's would later acquire the chain.