National Biscuit Company

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Omaha’s Groundbreaking Bakery – the Iten-Barmettler Factory

Today is National Cookie Day! Did you know that Omaha was once home to “America’s most modern bakery”?

In 1932, it was announced that the National Biscuit Company and the Iten Biscuit Company would merge in order to fully occupy the Midwestern market. Otto Barmettler, an Omahan, was named Vice President of the new conglomerate, whose headquarters would be in Omaha. The National Biscuit Company (later known as NABISCO), established in 1898 and employing 25,000 workers, was the largest baking company in the world.[1]

They set to work building a state-of-the-art new facility at 30th and Taylor Streets in North Omaha. It was said to be “America’s most modern bakery” – building construction cost $800,000 and a custom oven was purchased for $56,000. It was brought to Omaha in eight freight cars. Located in the heart of the factory, it was partitioned into six individually operated ovens so production could continue if technical problems arose.[2]

Postcard. The Iten-Barmettler Biscuit Company Headquarters, ca. 1939. Image courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society.

The investment in the new 85,000 square-foot facility was done with one goal in mind – automation. Every step in the production process, from mixing to frosting to carting baked goods around the factory, was done on a massive scale using specialized machinery. Upon opening, the factory had impressive output – just over 3 million crackers per day or 1.5 million cookies per day.[3]

Page from Iten’s Handy Helper, offering suggestions for using Iten brand crackers, ca. 1936. Courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society.

The Iten-Barmettler Company’s presence in Omaha was short-lived – they sold the factory to Merchants Biscuit Company in 1940 only five years after it was completed. Merchants stayed in Omaha a little longer, and had a strong presence during two international events. During World War II, the factory was a large employer. Even after the war, it seems they only employed women on the production floor. During the Cold War, the Merchants Biscuit Co. gained attention as the production facility for an experimental University of Nebraska-developed product called the Nebraskit. A compact cracker that packed 850 calories and high protein levels, it became a must-have item for fall-out shelters.[4]

Merchants closed in 1962, and over the next 38 years, the plant saw a succession of several other local manufacturing names: Orchard and Wilhelm Furniture Co., Central States Tool and Die Works, U.S. Mills, Erewhon Inc. In 2000, it was acquired by the Omaha Public Schools and retrofitted with classrooms to hold students during large-scale renovations of other school buildings.

The building still stands, just a few blocks south of the DCHS library.

[1] “Baking Companies Unify Operations.” The Oak Creek Times. September 8, 1932, p. 3.

[2] “$800,000 Iten-Barmettler Plant Opens; Can Bake 3,123,200 Crackers A Day.” The Omaha World-Herald. December 16, 1936, p. 5.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Peters, Chris. “In Cold War America, the ‘Nebraskit’ was the choice snack for nuclear fallout shelters.” The Omaha World-Herald. August 3, 2019.

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