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Did a cowboy rodeo champion create the best theory of quality improvement? Malcolm Baldrige and his award
  1. Mark Best1,
  2. Duncan Neuhauser2
  1. 1Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Bradenton, Florida, USA
  2. 2Case Western Reserve University, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Mark Best, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine—Bradenton, Bradenton, FL 34211, USA; markbest20{at}

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The Baldrige Award criteria are an excellent example of the practical application of Quality Improvement theory and are named for Malcolm Baldrige (1922 to 1987). They are the all-industry quality prize of the USA and are analogous to the Deming Prize of Japan, which was started in 1951. This award is a central feature of what is now called the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.

Howard Malcolm ‘Mac’ Baldrige, Jr (4 October 1922 to 25 July 1987)

Malcolm Baldrige was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1922. His father was H Malcolm Baldrige, a Nebraska lawyer and congressman. He was educated at Yale University, and received a bachelor's degree in 1944. In 1945, he fought in World War II at the battle of Okinawa. He married Margaret T Murrary in 1951, and they went on to have two daughters.

As a boy, he worked as a ranch hand and became very skilled at roping. He went on to become a member of the Rodeo Cowboys Association, was Professional Rodeo Man of the Year in 1980 and was elected into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1984. He went to work at a Connecticut factory as a labourer and became its president and a successful businessman.

President Ronald Reagan nominated Baldrige to be the 26th Secretary of Commerce on 11 December 1980. During his tenure, he reduced his Commerce Department budget by over 30% and was noted for his managerial excellence. He played a major role in reforming antitrust laws, and in forming US trade policy with China, India and the Soviet Union.

Baldrige was in a rodeo accident that led to his untimely death on 25 July 1987.1

Baldrige Performance Excellence Program

On 6 January 1987, Congress passed the ‘Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Improvement Act of 1987’ and later, on 20 August 1987, President Ronald Reagan approved the Act and signed it into law (Public Law …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.