Cornell Corporation Board Member, Robert Baker, Remembered for Inventing Chicken Nuggets, Turkey Burgers, and Cornell BBQ
Cornell Barbeque Sauce wasn’t the first formulation made by the late Dr. Robert C. Baker.
Baker is most famously accredited with the development of the
chicken nugget. He is also behind the development of other poultry
products, such as chicken and turkey hot dogs, and turkey ham. Prior to
1980, chicken was packed on ice and shipped to grossers and restaurants.
Baker developed improved modified atmosphere and vacuumed sealed
packaging for transporting poultry meat. These same packaging
techniques are used to this day.
According to previous Alpha Zeta chronicler Brian Crandall, Baker
perfected the chicken nugget by developing a method to get the bread to
stay attached to the chicken during the frying process. In the late
’70s, McDonalds utilized the methods developed by Baker as they were not
As a consequence, "although he gained notoriety for his work, he earned very little money off his creation,” stated Crandall.
Baker received his undergraduate degree at Cornell in 1943. He worked
in Cornell extension education before completing his masters at
Pennsylvania State and his doctorate at Purdue University. While working
at Penn State, Baker developed the BBQ sauce. His efforts were not
appreciated however until he joined the faculty of Cornell with a
mandate to promote New York’s poultry industry.
His obituary documents the story of how, in 1999, President Bill
Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton toured the New York state
fair specifically to get a taste of Cornell barbeque chicken. When at
the Baker's Chicken Coop eatery, Baker’s daughter Reenie presented the
first family with a basket of New York apples - the President asked,
"Those apples look good, but where's the chicken?”
In his faculty years, Baker founded the Institute of Food Science and
Marketing in 1970, and was the institute’s first director from 1970 to
1975. He also chaired the department of Poultry and Avian Sciences from
1980 to its disbandment in 1990. He retired in 1989 as a Professor
Emeritus. In January of 2004, Baker was inducted into the American
Poultry Hall of Fame.
In addition to his work in academia, Baker was elected to the
corporation board of the Cornell chapter of Alpha Zeta fraternity in
1980. There, he served as president for 20 years. According to current
corp board president Richard Church, Baker was instrumental in
organizing funding for a large renovation project. In 1992, 1.5 million
dollars was donated to the house by over 600 Alpha Zeta alumni of the
then 1200 living alumni of the fraternity. In 1993, when the house was
re-dedicated, the chapter’s living room was named in Dr. Baker’s honor.