1977 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Life is a great big book and each day is a page. Once you turn the page, there is no turning back."
The daughter of poor immigrants, Rose Cook Small was born and raised in Camden, New Jersey. To help her parents support their six children, Small sold produce on street corners by the age of 12. She dropped out of school before completing the tenth grade. At 16, she married an ambitious young clerk who worked in a meat market. They dreamed of one day owning a large meat processing and packing business. That dream began to take shape in 1933, when they opened their first meat market. Small was just 21, but she took on the major responsibility for the store in addition to raising their two small sons.
The market was so successful that the Cooks opened a second one in 1936, this time with a packing house. But a year later, the market was destroyed in a fire. Small walked the 14 miles to the store to clean up the mess because she couldn't afford the eight-cent trolley fare.
Hoping to reopen the store, Small went to her bank to get a loan. She offered her wedding rings as collateral. The loan was granted and Bluebird, Inc., was established with the reopening of the store in 1940. The business flourished. Ten years later, Small's husband died, but she continued in the business and learned all facets of meat packing and processing.
By 1963, Bluebird had moved to a larger plant, and within five years was shipping 2 million pounds of meat weekly. Small remarried in 1960 and took the company public in 1968. Over the next decade, she acquired three other meat packing businesses, making Bluebird the largest meat-processing plant in the United States. She sold her business in 1980 and retired.
Always involved in charitable and civic causes, Small kept a box on her desk. Each morning when she arrived at work, she put some money in the box. With each phone call that brought good news about her company, she added more money to the box. At the end of each week for 20 years, she sent the contents of the box to the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Of her Horatio Alger Award, Small said, "It was an honor to be selected for this prestigious award. Starting a business and making it work isn't easy, but with hard work and dedication, I believe anything can be accomplished. My award is the physical symbol of how I made my dream come true."