The iconic Four ‘n Twenty Pie was invented in Bendigo, Victoria, by L.T. McClure in 1947. He started selling them at the Royal Melbourne Agricultural Show in 1949. Owing to increased demand, he opened a bakery in a pavilion of the showgrounds, later moving to bigger premises. Australians eat more meat pies per capita than anyone else – on average more than 12 meat pies per year. The Four ‘n Twenty pie factory is the largest in the world, baking 50,000 pies an hour.
Les McClure was a former dairy farmer who opened a café called Dad & Dave in Bendigo in 1939. From the mid-1940s he catered for Bendigo race meetings, the Royal Melbourne Show and other events. He made his first pies in Bendigo, but soon moved his production to the showgrounds and then to a purpose-built factory in Ascot Vale.
By 1956, he was producing 1000 dozen pies an hour. The pies were delivered fresh to outlets around Melbourne and by 1960 there were 98 vans in the Four ‘n Twenty fleet. That year, McClure sold the business to Peters Ice Cream (Vic.) Ltd and the brand continued for many years as part of the Petersville empire.
Petersville and its brands changed hands during the 1990s. Pacific Dunlop acquired the company in 1991 as part of its diversification program and created the Pacific Brands Food Group. In 1995 the group, with brand names including Edgell-Birds Eye, Plumrose, Big Sister, Four ‘n Twenty, Leggo, Vitari, and Herbert Adams, was sold to the American Simplot. Four ‘n Twenty remained in American hands until 2003 when it was bought by pie manufacturer, Patties. The brand passed into foreign hands once more when Patties was sold to the Asian investment group, PAG, in 2022.
In Victoria, Four ‘n Twenty has long been associated with Australian rules football, being sold at matches. Many early television commercials featured footballers, including Collingwood’s Lou Richards and Richmond’s Jack (Captain Blood) Dyer. The jingle ran:
Oh what a lovely pie me boys, a Four ‘n Twenty Pie
Lovely tasty pastry in a Four ‘n Twenty pie
Lots of lovely tender meat, the finest you can buy…
Oh what a lovely pie me boys, a Four ‘n Twenty Pie – oi!
Today, other than at the football, the Four ‘n Twenty Pie is most likely to be bought frozen, in packs of four, from the supermarket. In 2017 the company released a meat, cheese and Vegemite version – perhaps the ultimate in Australian snacking.