Former Wonder Bread and Continental Baking Co. plant razed in Akron

The wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through downtown Akron for nearly a century.

All that’s left are the memories — and mountains of rubble.

A seven-man crew from ProQuality Demolition of Youngstown is tearing down the former Wonder Bread and Continental Baking Co. plant at Forge and Lincoln streets near the University of Akron.

Work began early this month and the remaining section of the 110-year-old building is expected to tumble by the end of this week. The crew has been using John Deere excavators to raze the 60,000-square-foot structure.

The Akron Baking Co., established in the 1890s, built the two-story brick building in 1914 for $3,000 (about $55,000 today) and equipped it with more than $150,000 in machinery — or $2.7 million in today’s money. Billed as “the most modern and sanitary bakery in America,” the complex at 178 S. Forge St. featured silos, sifters, mixers, proofers, dehumidifiers, ovens and packagers. 

The company touted its state-of-the-art machinery as time-saving devices for Akron women who would no longer have to bake their own bread.

“These giant armed machines revolve in the dough; around and around goes the great arms, they have no other work to do; no flies to shoo away; no floors to sweep; no children to dress for school,” the Beacon Journal explained. “The machine does not have to take its arms out of the dough, and run to the door to greet a caller or turn away a peddler.”

The original bakery produced 80,000 loaves per day under the brand names Holsum, Kleen-Maid, Betsy Ross, Certified and Old Home Potato. Its fleet of 20 horse-drawn wagons gradually gave way to motorized trucks that rolled through the streets of Akron.

The Akron Baking Co. consolidated with Standard Bakeries Corp. of Chicago in 1923 before merging two years later with the Continental Baking Co., the New York maker of Wonder Bread.

The Forge Street plant was called Wonder Bakery, producing Wonder Bread and Hostess Cakes, before switching to the Continental name.

“Your child deserves this amazing Wonder Bread,” Continental advertised. “Because it builds strong bodies 8 ways. Look for the familiar wrapper with the colored balloons at your grocer’s. And buy Wonder Bread fresh today.”

Generations of white-clad employees bustled around the complex as fresh loaves rolled along conveyor belts toward trucks for distribution at stores. The aroma of fresh bread drifted across the University of Akron campus and filtered throughout downtown Akron.

A Wonder-Hostess Thrift Store opened adjacent to the plant at 216 E. Mill St. in the 1970s. Shoppers could purchase Twinkies, Ho Hos, Hostess Pies, Wonder Bread, buns, muffins, cakes, doughnuts and other baked goods at discount prices.

By the 1980s, the Forge Street bakery produced 125,000 loaves of bread each day for 2,800 stores in Northeast Ohio under the brand names Wonder, Wonder Light and Home Pride.

Continental boasted a workforce of 350 in Northeast Ohio at eight locations, including 175 in Akron.

In 1995, Interstate Bakeries Corp. of Kansas City, the producer of brands such as Sunbeam, Weber’s and Butternut, bought Continental Baking from Ralston Purina Co. for $463 million.

The Akron plant endured recessions, wars and strikes, but it could not survive the 21st century. Interstate Bakeries filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2004, emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 under the name Hostess Brands Inc. and moved its headquarters to Dallas.

In 2010, Hostess Brands shut down the Akron bakery and retail outlet, laying off 100 employees. Executives cited decreasing bread sales in Akron and the aging facilities on Forge Street as the rationale for moving production to a plant near Toledo.

Overnight, the aroma of fresh bread dissipated in Akron.

The University of Akron acquired the property and turned the structure into temporary storage. In December 2023, UA trustees agreed to tear it down. ProQuality Land Development Inc. (ProQuality Demolition) won the contract with a bid of $857,000.

After razing the building, the Youngstown company will haul away the rubble, grade the land and plant grass on the site.

Akron has lost several industrial landmarks in recent months. Wreckers removed the B.F. Goodrich smokestacks, Goodyear Tire & Rubber mixing plant and old Akron Steel Treating Co. complex, and a fire destroyed the former Ace Rubber Products factory.

But there was at least one notable gain in the region.

The J.M. Smucker Co. of Orrville completed the $5.6 billion acquisition of Hostess Brands in November.

Mark J. Price can be reached at [email protected]

More: Old Goodyear buildings torn down in Akron

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