Irma Rombauer


“It is definitely number one on my list . . . the one book of all cookbooks . . .
that I would have on my shelf if I could have but one.”
—Julia Child on The Joy of Cooking

The Joy of Cooking is one of the biggest-selling cookbooks in history, penned by a woman from Missouri. Irma Rombauer risked her entire life savings to publish the book that she knew would be popular with women of the 1930s. It offered an inexpensive and carefree method of bringing a meal to the table in a format that had rarely been seen. Her gamble was right, and the book has now been in print continuously since 1931.


Irma von Starkloff Rombauer was born in October 1877 in St. Louis. Not much is known of her early years except that like many women of the late 1800s she married young, started a family, and stayed at home while her husband worked. She played the role of faithful wife and hostess and likely never imagined she would have to work outside the home to make a living. Her life changed instantly in 1930 when her husband died unexpectedly and left her without an income and very little savings to pay the bills. She turned to the two things she knew really well: entertaining and teaching others how to cook.


Irma’s personal collection of recipes and cooking techniques was immense. She knew the collection would be of great use to women who needed a no-frills and inexpensive way to put a meal on the table. She had collected recipes for most of
her life, so she decided to write and publish a book that showcased what she hadlearned over the past fifty years as a homemaker. She gathered all of her recipes, and all the money she could scratch together, and assembled the book. Irma wrote while her daughter, an art teacher, provided illustrations. By the time the book was done, it was more than one thousand pages. She self-published the book in 1931 and hoped it would bring in just enough money to sustain her.


The Joy of Cooking was a huge success, much to the surprise of many people in the publishing industry. It did so well with book buyers that major book publishers quickly took notice. The Bobbs-Merrill Publishing Company bought the rights to publish the book five years after the first printing. The large publishing house expanded the exposure of the book around the country and provided some monetary relief for Irma and her family.

Rombauer’s gamble had paid off, as families were using her techniques to entertain guests around the world. The Joy of Cooking has now sold more than 15 million copies, and it continues to be published today, more than seventy years after it first hit store shelves.


*Sales of the 1943 edition made The Joy of Cooking the nation’s most popular cookbook.

*Irma’s daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, became a co-author of the book in 1951 and continued publishing the book to adapt it to changing tastes.


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