Block of Salt: Profiles in Ethics A Quaker Oats Story
Editor's Note: During 2012, the GLEANER will feature examples of people, past or present, who acted as 'Salt in Their Communities.'
In 1881 he bought the "bankrupt Quaker Mill at Ravenna, Ohio, and its most important asset, the brand name — Quaker."1 Quakerism was synonymous with scrupulous honesty, simplicity of life, purity of character, and dealings of fair trade — all of which were embodied by him — and he is said never to have compromised principle even when it would have been clearly in his advantage to do so. (The original Quaker Man was a registered trademark emphasizing purity so much it carried a scroll with the word "pure" inscribed upon it.)4 Within 10 years, Quaker Oats was a household word to millions.1
Henry Parsons Crowell (1855–1943), founder of the Quaker Oats Company and called "the autocrat of the breakfast table" or "the man who invented breakfast," changed what Americans ate, reinvented the way storekeepers stocked their shelves, and revolutionized marketing and merchandising with methods still respected today.
When the loss of his father and brothers to tuberculosis left him with a large inheritance, Crowell could easily have had a life of luxury but instead chose to work hard. His life changed when he heard Dwight L. Moody speak. "Do you ever think big things for God?" Moody asked. "The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him."1
This resonated with Crowell. "Lord, by your grace and with the help of the Holy Spirit, I'll be that man!" he prayed. "I can't be a preacher, but I can be a good businessman. God, if you will let me make money, I will use it in your service."1
Without a college education but with acumen for trade, Crowell strived to be the best businessman possible. Rather than convince store owners to buy his product based on what they thought they could sell, Crowell believed he could create his own consumer. "Advertising to the consumer was considered a crazy idea ... even more, no one knew what might happen if someone tried to sell a legitimate product with honest claims."6
Crowell saturated the country with Quaker Oats advertisements. He ran train boxcars covered with the Quaker Oats name from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Portland, Oregon. He "sponsored exhibits at fairs and expositions where salesmen offered and prepared oatmeal and cereal samples in their booths and explained the production process through fancy displays."2
Crowell was the first to forego bulk bins and instead packaged products, wrapping his oats in bright papers featuring the Quaker Man logo. (This was the first American advertising icon placed on a food product).5
He also introduced the first-ever "trial-size samples. The 1/2 oz. oats samples were delivered to every mailbox in Portland."1 These were new concepts, and the public loved them.
The company purchased Aunt Jemima in 1926; Life Cereal, Cap'n Crunch and Quisp Cereal in the 1960s; later Cinnamon Life, Stokely-Van Camp (the Gatorade brand); the Golden Grain Company (makers of Rice-A-Roni); and the Snapple Beverage Company. In the 1980s, they branched out into chewy granola bars.
Crowell was a non-denominational Christian who "made the business a part of his daily prayers."6 Although he had a "great capacity for creating wealth,"6 he used it solely to advance the kingdom of God. The most recurrent and unified theme summarizing his life is this:
Henry Parsons Crowell died one of the wealthiest men in Chicago. However, he had regularly given away "70 percent of his earnings for more than 40 years. But Crowell viewed all things as a stewardship from God, including influence. Over the years, one businessman after another would comment on how he came to know Christ personally because of the life of integrity lived by Henry Parsons Crowell."7
Prior to his death, Crowell chaired the Moody Bible Institute's board of directors. He "set up a wisely administered trust as a vehicle to be used to faithfully serve God's work in perpetuity." Today, the Crowell Trust continues his legacy with grants to organizations dedicated to "the teaching and active extension of the doctrines of evangelical Christianity."9
Upon the businessman's death, it was said: "The world has indeed seen what God can do through a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to HIM."8
"In 1881 he bought the bankrupt Quaker Mill at Ravenna, Ohio, and its most important asset, the brand name – Quaker."1
1 ^a, b, c, d, e, Unknown. Dr. Tan's Encyclopedia. Bible Communications. Timeless Truths for Transient Times. Sermon Illustrations. Bible Communications Inc. Web.
2 Welcome to Quaker Oats. Web. 16 June 2011.
3 "Home Cooking and The Quaker Oats Company." Home Cooking with Brand Name Products of Today and Yesterday -brandnamecooking.com. Web. 16 June 2011.
4 Cooper, William A. The Testimony of Integrity in the Religious Society of Friends. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications, 1991. Print.
5 "Who Is the Guy on the Quaker Oats Box?" Straight Dope.com - What's Your Question? Web. 16 June 2011. .
6 ^a, b, c, Musser, Joe. The Cereal Tycoon: Henry Parsons Crowell, Founder of the Quaker Oats Co.: a Biography. Chicago: Moody, 1997. Print
7 "Ebookwormy (Chicago, IL)'s Review of Cereal Tycoon: The Biography of Henry Parsons Crowell." 3 June 2008. Web. 16 June 2011.
8 "Book Review Cereal Tycoon: The Biography of Henry Parson Crowell." Web.
9 The Crowell Trust. Web. 16 June 2011.