Arthur Perdue started a poultry business when the railway company he worked for, Adams Express Co., wanted to transfer him to Pennsylvania from Salisbury, Maryland. In the Express Office as an Agent he observed thousands of eggs being shipped to northern cities. He saw that the poultry farmers were making money and in 1919 when threatened with the move he resigned and started a small egg farm with a purchase of 50 Leghorn chicks. From 1920 to 1925 they built a new layer house every year and then built a hatchery. For the next 14 years they sold practically nothing but White Leghorns. In 1926 finding they had some spare brooding space they purchased 2,000 Barred-Rock chicks for broilers. These were sold live to the eastern market at 50c per pound. When Frank Perdue came into the business in 1939 he bought 1,000 New Hampshire pullets and mated them to Barred-Rock males. This started the broiler hatching business. The switch to broilers accelerated soon after when leucosis killed virtually all the Leghorns. Perdue entered the feed business in the 1950’s and started processing in 1967. The laws of economics lead the company to switch from growing to processing. The company was one of the last big growers supplying companies like Swift and Amour with over 800,000 birds a week – and they were making the profits. The production model that was set up by Frank Perdue was a fully integrated system in which hatching eggs were bought from carefully monitored breeders and then hatched in the company hatchery; chicks were then given to independent growers
The company paid the growers a contracted rate for each bird delivered live to the company processing plant. Contracting with farmers on the Delmarva peninsula began in 1950, feed mixing to their own formulation started in 1953 and established the primary breeding and genetics research programs in 1970. In 1971 the company began advertising Perdue branded chicken on radio and television with Frank Perdue as the spokesperson. By 1992 sales for all operations was $1.2 billion.
The single most important part of the success of the company lay in the hands of Frank Perdue. He became famous for giving his time to people in his employment and his customers. His wife Mitzi Perdue said “Many people know that Frank Perdue is famous for his chickens, his financial success, his marketing innovations, his drive, his creativity, or even his eccentricities, but I think that his greatest success lies elsewhere. To me, true success isn’t measured by what you get, but rather by what you give. The tough man who makes those tender chickens, is an unusually giving man.”