Malcolm, Baldrige, Hero, Quality Improvement

When anyone mentions the name Malcolm Baldrige, you might think of the prestigious quality award named after the man. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is an award established by the U.S. Congress in 1987 to raise awareness of quality management and recognize U.S. companies that have implemented successful quality management systems. But there was a lot more to Malcolm Baldrige than just his commitment to quality.

Early Life

Howard Malcolm Baldrige Jr. was born in Omaha, Nebraska on October 4, 1922 and soon nicknamed “Mac.” He had two siblings, a brother and a sister. His father was a congressman representing Nebraska. Mac attended the Hotchkiss School followed by Yale University, where he was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

He later served as a captain in the 27th Infantry Division during WWII and in 1951 he married Midge Trowbridge Murray. They had two daughters during their marriage.

Career Trajectory

Baldrige began his manufacturing career by working in an iron foundry. He started as a foundry hand in 1947 and later became the president of the company by 1960 because of his diligence and hard work.

In 1962, he left the foundry to head up a company called Scovill, Inc. When he joined, Scovill was known primarily as a brass mill, but under Baldrige’s leadership the company became widely diversified and branched out into the consumer and industrial goods markets.

Secretary of Commerce

In December 1980, President Ronald Reagan named Malcolm Baldrige as Secretary of Commerce and he was sworn in January 1981. During his tenure, he helped set policy for technology protection and worked with Russian leaders to open Russia to American trade.

Baldrige led the task force that drafted the Export Trade Act of 1982 and was instrumental in rooting out and rectifying unfair trade practices. He would later go on to help reform U.S. antitrust laws and become highly regarded both in the U.S. and around the world. His efforts led to greater efficiency in government and long-term improvements to the American economy. In fact, under his leadership, the Commerce Department budget went down by 30 percent even as he managed to advance the department’s agenda on both a global and national level.


In 1984, Malcolm Baldrige wrote the introduction to a U.S. Commerce Department book entitled “How Plain English Works for Business, Twelve Case Studies.” The highly acclaimed book featured case studies on how translations of complex legal or bureaucratic documents can be simplified into clearer language that could be more easily understood by the average reader. Baldrige disliked “jargon” writing that obscured the true meaning and purpose of what was being written in numerous company policies. His feeling was that clear understandable writing demonstrated a mastery of both the topic and the language.

Baldrige on Quality Improvement

Baldrige believed that quality was the key to prosperity and economic growth. He drafted one of the early versions of the Quality Improvement Act of 1987 and Congress named an annual award after him in recognition of his efforts. Today, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is one of the most prestigious achievements possible for any manufacturing company as it recognizes organizations in the business, health care, education and nonprofit sectors for performance excellence.

Manufacturing, industry and commerce lost a brilliant crusader with the passing of Malcolm Baldrige. After his death, President Ronald Reagan presented Baldrige with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) named one of their research vessels after him. Malcolm Baldrige was brilliant, colorful, dedicated and highly respected by industry leaders around the world.

How have Malcolm Baldrige’s principles of quality improvement affected your manufacturing quality standards? Discover other Heroes of Manufacturing and learn more about the visionaries that transformed the world of manufacturing.