Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Entries : Quaker Oats Co.
Quaker Oats Co.

Quaker Oats Co.

In 1879, the Imperial Mill was built at 16th and Dearborn Streets in Chicago by a group of investors that included John and Robert Stuart. At the end of the 1880s, this oat mill and several other leading mills around the Midwest became part of the American Cereal Co., a grain-milling giant that had its headquarters in Chicago. In 1901, American Cereal became the Quaker Oats Co. (The “Quaker” brand name came from an Ohio mill owned by Henry P. Crowell.) By 1907, Quaker's annual sales of oatmeal, flour, and feed amounted to $20 million. In 1909, the company used new machines to produce its “Puffed Rice” and “Puffed Wheat” ready-to-eat cereals, which proved popular. Annual sales in 1918 exceeded $120 million. In 1925, the company bought the “Aunt Jemima” mills of St. Joseph, Missouri. By that time, Quaker had begun to use oat hulls to produce the chemical furfural, which was soon used by industry to manufacture nylon and synthetic rubber. The company also became a leading maker of pet foods. In 1942, Quaker purchased Ken-L-Ration Dog Foods of Rockford, Illinois. By the middle of the 1960s, annual sales approached $500 million, and the company employed about 12,000 people nationwide (only a few hundred of these worked in the Chicago area). The company proceeded to introduce new lines of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, including its popular “Life” and “Cap'n Crunch” brands, as well as Quaker instant oatmeal. By the middle of the 1970s, when the company employed about 1,800 people in the Chicago area, annual sales were about $1.5 billion. Over the last decades of the century, Quaker continued to make cereals, but its greatest success and greatest failure came with beverages. Its “Gatorade” sports drink brand became an immensely popular and profitable product and helped push Quaker's global workforce up to 32,000 by 1989. The company suffered in 1994, however, after paying $1.7 billion to acquire the “Snapple” drink brand, which it dumped in 1997 at a huge loss. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, when Quaker grossed nearly $5 billion in annual sales and had about 1,200 workers in the Chicago area and another 10,000 worldwide, the company was acquired by PepsiCo Inc. of New York.