Quirky Des Moines #17- Breaking Bread in Des Moines


The sign was probably more famous than the bread itself, at least to those who have ever driven down University Avenue.  Though the factory closed in 2000, the sign lived on to become a treasured local landmark.

The Win M. Campbell Corporation was started in 1925 by Winfield Campbell in Kansas City with the intention of bringing national association of local bakeries to ensure a large selection of quality baked goods. The first bakery sold bread door to door using 15-horse-drawn carriages.  By 1928, A.L. Taggart invested in the company with Campbell and their company became the Campbell-Taggart Associated Bakeries.  Their company owned 19 independently operated bakeries by 1929.

The Colonial Baking company made it’s Des Moines debut in January of 1927. The bakery had a specially built dough room with walls made using a special insulation to help maintain the level of moisture needed to bake the bread at optimum condition. The bakery cost $250,000 to build- the equivalent in today’s money of $3.4 million.

At the time of it’s opening, the Des Moines Colonial Bakery was considered “Iowa’s most modern bakery” with it’s cleverly designed machines that mixed and divided the dough to be shaped into pans to be put into the oven.  They proudly advertised it was hardly necessary for the human touch to the products they produced, thus showing how superior their machines were.

As an association, the local bakeries made decisions about productivity, production and delivery while the subsidiary presidents were in charge of providing large volume rates of baking supplies which allowed the small bakeries to compete with large corporations.  This form of consolidation started in 1930’s and by the 1950’s, most small bakeries either went out of business or were forced to affiliate with their larger competitors.

Campbell Taggart was purchased by Annheuser Busch brewing in 1982 for $560 million, 21 times the 1981 profits by Campbell Taggart of $41.7 million.  In 1985, the Colonial Bread brand under the new ownership, started the IronKids Health and Fitness program that ran local triathlons for children ages seven to fourteen.  In 1990, the company created IronKids bread to provide a high fiber bread product enriched with iron and other nutrients.

In 1996, Annheuser-Buesch decided to spin-off Campbell Taggart as an independent public company renamed the EarthGrains Company.  In 1999, EarthGrains acquired Metz Baking Company, one of the largest regional commercial baking companies in the United States.

Though there is no public information showing this acquisition caused the closing, the Des Moines Colonial Bakery closed in 2000. The bakery sat empty until the Des Moines Public School District bought the building in 2004 and turned it into the Central Nutrition center.  Today, the former bakery provides breakfast and lunch meals to nearly 20,000 students daily using a cook-chill method. The food is cooked to 180 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria and then rapidly cooled to below 40 degrees and stored at 33 degrees Fahrenheit to be driven to the various schools in refrigerated trucks.

The Colonial Sign still stands today even though the building itself now has different ownership. Even though the building isn’t making bread on a daily basis, at least it’s continuing to provide a quality product to the thousands of students and staff in the Des Moines Public School district.


For the story of the Baby Faced Embezzler, click here.



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