Rudolf August Oetker (1916–2007)

Companies making food additives, for use in the home or in large-scale manufacturing, prospered in most economically advanced European countries in the closing years of the nineteenth century. In Germany, the Oetker Group, established by August Oetker (1862-1918) developed the market for baking powder and allied products, establishing a manufacturing plant in Bielefeld in 1900, and obtaining a patent for BACKIN three years later.

Rudolf August Oetker, grandson of the founder, was born six months after his father died in the fighting at Verdun and was responsible for the company’s prodigious growth after the Second World War. Oetker prospered during the war by supply food for the German  armed forces, and also by manufacturing grenades and parts for machine guns. He was captured by the British army in May 1945, but cleared in the process of denazification.

By 1950 the Oetker company was producing annually some 750 million packages of baking powder and custard powder, and Rudolf Oetker was sometimes called the Pudding-Pabst (Pudding Pope). He frequently appeared in television advertisements for the company’s products, particularly for the frozen pizzas it introduced to Germany in 1970. His principal factories remained in Bielefeld, but by the time he retired in 1981 the company had 23,000 employees in 35 countries.

Oetker took a majority share in the Hamburg Sud shipping company, had substantial holdings in the German brewing industry, and developed a chain of hotels in his retirement. Ownership of the company passed to his eight children and the Dr Oetker brand remains powerful in the twenty-first century.