The Story of Edward M. Nagel

Edward M. Nagel was born in November, 1905 in the City of Wuppertal, Germany, in the hill country between Dusseldorf and Cologne. Ed's father, a physician, and his mother raised nine children—Ed was the fourth son in a family of seven boys and two girls.

Despite Germany's ravaged economy following World War I, Ed's father offered to put each of his children through college. One son earned a degree in law, another obtained an engineering degree, a third became an ophthalmologist and three became physicians. One daughter became a pharmacist; the other became a medical technician. Ed, however, was interested in business. At age nineteen, he asked his father only for the fare for passage to the Universitynited States.

Arriving in New York City in 1926, speaking little English, Ed lived at the YMCA, attended night school and worked in an Automat restaurant. Through an acquaintance, Ed landed a job as a coder and decoder with an affiliate of the National City Bank in the heart of Wall Street. When Ed saved a few dollars, he bought some stock in a bull market and, fortunately, sold his shares at a good profit only weeks before the 1929 stock market crash.

As a result of the stock market crash, however, Ed lost his job. He visited his family in Germany, and then returned to New York. Now in the beginning of the Great Depression, Ed decided to move to Southern California. Ed's first job in Los Angeles, was selling bread door-to-door for the Davis Perfection Bakery.

The Business Man


At the end of 1930, a German family invited Ed to a holiday party. Not wanting to arrive empty handed, Ed looked for a bakery that made a popular German Christmas cookie. He couldn't find the cookies he wanted, but he did find a German baker, Henry Berkenkamp, who offered Ed a sandwich made with heavy, hand-sliced whole rye bread. Ed complimented Berkenkamp on his bread. Berkenkamp said he was flattered but, unfortunately, he was broke and was closing his bakery.

Sensing a good opportunity to make himself independent, Ed proposed to Berkenkamp that they become partners in a wholesale rye bread bakery. Berkenkamp could bake excellent bread and Ed knew he could sell it. Ed also thought that slicing the bread and using cellophane to wrap ten to twelve thin slices into 3 1/2-inch square gourmet packages would make the bread more marketable.

Within four weeks, the two partners found a shop suitable for their bakery and started the Berkenkamp Baking Company. Their small packages of gourmet rye bread were an immediate success.

During his daily sales route operations, Ed noticed a loaf of whole wheat bread on display at some retail stops. The bread, called Oroweat bread, was excellent, but it was not presented properly and, as a result, did not attract buyers.

Ed called on Mr. and Mrs. Dreyer, the elderly owners of the little Oroweat bakery. During the first meeting, Mr. Dreyer asked Ed to handle the distribution of their unsliced 1 1/2-pound Oroweat whole wheat bread, while Ed offered Mr. and Mrs. Dreyer a partnership in the Berkenkamp Bread Bakery. Combining the activities of the Berkenkamp and Oroweat shops, Oroweat Whole Grain Breads was established.

In 1939, after some six of seven successful years and continuous growth, the owners decided to open a plant in San Francisco. Ed agreed to move North to take on that responsibility. The San Francisco Oroweat bakery also flourished; its products were sold as far away as Alaska.

By 1972, the company maintained six bakeries in California, Oregon and Washington for the production of its whole grain breads, flour and cereal products. In that year, when sales exceeded $45 million and the company employed 1800 people, Continental Grain Company purchased Oroweat.

After 1972, Ed looked for new business activities and provided venture capital for a fledging software company. Well into his late eighties, Ed continued to show up at the new company's offices nearly every day to stay involved in business and offer his expertise, as needed.

The Art Collector


As a young boy, Ed became interested in art and objects that had a history when he contemplated the porcelain, pewter ware and other family antiques that were passed along from generation to generation in his family. In New York and California, he sought out museums, galleries and antique stores; and he began to collect art, focusing primarily on Asian objects. He became very interested in Cambodian art and took three trips to Cambodia to visit their extraordinary temples. He also went on rigorous trips to acquire some Khmer sculpture, pre-Columbian art objects and European art.

For many years Ed donated art and antiquities to several museums, including the San Francisco Asian Art and De Young museums. He served as Commissioner of the Asian Art Museum.



Throughout his life, Ed cultivated associations and respect with people from all walks of life, and he supported community organizations. Desiring to make a special contribution to economically disadvantaged young people who are motivated to get an education, he founded

The Edward M. Nagel Foundation in 1992. Edward M. Nagel died in his sleep in 1996, one month short of his 91st birthday.

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Created by Michael Ray Dotson, San Francisco, CA