40 Fascinating Facts About Quaker Oats – And How It Reached Our Breakfast Tables

It’s safe to say that, for many of us, a day just doesn’t feel right if it doesn’t begin with a bowl of Quaker Oats. Yet despite the product’s familiarity, there’s so much we don’t know about it. The famous brand has a wild back-story, one that stretches back well over a century. And as you can imagine, there were plenty of twists and turns along the way. With that in mind, we take a look at some of the most interesting tidbits related to this famous brand.

40. Not the holiest of breakfasts

From its earliest days, the Quaker Oats brand sought to cultivate an image of itself as fundamentally wholesome and decent. Yet the specific way in which it did this was decidedly dishonest. In short, it turns out that absolutely nobody involved in establishing the business was actually a Quaker. Instead, the company’s founders just wanted to align their firm with the positive values with which the religious movement was associated.

39. The make-believe mascot

He’s as recognizable as any other breakfast mascot out there, yet who exactly is the guy on the Quaker Oats packaging? Well, some people think it’s William Penn, the man who established Pennsylvania. Given that Penn was himself a Quaker, you might expect this theory to be on the money. In actual fact, though, it turns out that the fellow wasn’t based on anyone in particular.

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38. He does have a name, though

Just because he never actually existed doesn’t mean that the Quaker Oats man shouldn’t have a name. After all, he’s served his brand well over the years, injecting a sense of decency into the products they peddle. It’s only right that he has a strong name to go with his image. So, with that in mind, meet Larry.

37. Pioneers of breakfast branding

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In addition to his general fame and prominence, Larry also has a place in the record books. During 1877 he was added to the U.S. Patent Office’s register, representing the earliest instance of a breakfast cereal being trademarked. Larry was described at the time as a fellow in “Quaker garb.”

36. What’s in a name?

There was a time when the brand we all know and love today operated under another name entirely. Quaker Oats can trace its roots back to 1850, when the German Mills American Cereal Company was set up by Ferdinand Schumacher. This later became the American Cereal Company, which itself was retitled the Quaker Oats Company in 1901.

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35. How about a drink?

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In addition to being synonymous with oat products, Quaker was once the third-biggest player in the North American beverage industry. That’s because the company bought out Gatorade in 1983 and added Snapple to its portfolio a decade later. It was the latter deal that thrust Quaker into the big time, with only PepsiCo and Coca-Cola selling more beverages across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. But this Snapple deal was ultimately a major failure, and Quaker offloaded the brand in a little over two years.

34. One big facility

It shouldn’t really come as a surprise to learn that Quaker runs the biggest cereal production site on Earth. This place is in Cedar Rapid, Iowa, with more than 2 million pounds of oats being processed here each and every day. Those quantities are difficult to envision, but we can say that they add up to a whole lot of breakfasts.

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33. Flicking through a magazine

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The Quaker Oats Company was a pioneering business in many ways – and that extends to its promotion techniques. When we look back to 1882, for example, we see that the company ran a promotional campaign in magazines across America. This actually marked the first time that a breakfast cereal had ever been marketed in such a way.

32. Not just for people

Back during the early 1940s Quaker Oats bought a company called Ken-L Ration, which produced dog food made from horse. This was the earliest enterprise in America to offer such a product in a can. Quaker held on to this business for many decades, before offloading it in the mid-1990s.

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31. Not so wholesome

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Despite the healthy image the firm projects, Quaker Oats actually makes use of an extremely problematic ingredient. Palm oil is included in its range of products, and there’s a serious issue with that. Basically, palm oil production has been heavily linked with damage to the environment and the mistreatment of laborers.

30. The right thing to do

If you were around in the 1980s and 1990s, you might remember the slogan, “It’s the right thing to do and the tasty way to do it.” These were the immortal words spoken by The Firm actor Wilford Brimley in the Quaker Oats promos. Apparently, he agreed to do these ads because he suffered from diabetes and wanted to support a nutritious breakfast product.

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29. A lively Scottish base

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Quaker Oats has a facility in the Scottish region of Fife – and it’s a busy place. The site is responsible for producing goods that are then sent to more than 50 nations all across the globe. And a lot of these markets are situated in the Middle East and Africa.

28. For the fun of it

For over 20 years Quaker Oats was in control of one of the most recognizable toy brands in America. At the end of the 1960s it bought Fisher-Price, with the toy business reportedly coming to make up a quarter of the corporation’s earnings. Yet the union wasn’t to last, with Quaker letting go of Fisher-Price in the early 1990s.

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27. A game plan

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On top of everything else, Quaker even tried to make it in the video-gaming industry in the 1980s. The company set up an arm known as U.S. Games that produced a number of Atari 2600 games. But it isn’t a shock to learn that the endeavor didn’t last long, given that Quaker is predominantly known for producing breakfast goods.

26. A part of Pepsi

In 2001 a new chapter in the story of Quaker Oats got underway. That year, the enterprise itself was taken over by PepsiCo. With that, the title Quaker Oats Company – which had been in use since the early 1900s – became Quaker Foods & Beverages. It’s now almost two decades later and Quaker is still very much a part of Pepsi.

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25. Firing on all cylinders

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Regardless of the brand, oatmeal today often shows up on shelves in cylindrical containers. But this specific form of packaging was actually an innovation from Quaker Oats, which introduced it back in 1915. The idea stuck, of course, and millions of the things are now produced and sold every year.

24. The seeds of doubt

Oats weren’t always a popular choice for American consumers. In fact, there was a time when they were widely deemed to only be fit for horses. But these initial doubts were eventually overcome with the help of Ferdinand Schumacher, who set up the successful German Mills American Oatmeal Factory. This venture later joined with two other enterprises and the Quaker Oats Company was established.

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23. Battle lines

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It’s fair to say that Schumacher’s success was at least partly down to the onset of the American Civil War. At the time, cheap foodstuff was essential in order to nourish the many soldiers involved in the conflict. Oats, it seems, were an ideal choice for fulfilling this task.

22. Delicious dinosaur eggs

Kids of the 1990s might well remember when Quaker Oats first introduced us to Dinosaur Eggs. This marked the first step in a strategy to appeal more to children, with other products such as Treasure Hunt and Sea Adventures arriving in their wake. While the latter two cereals didn’t last, Dinosaur Eggs are still going strong today.

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21. A trial run

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If consumers don’t know anything about a company’s product, then obviously it’s pretty difficult for the business to make any sales. Bearing this in mind, the people at Quaker Oats in 1890 got creative. They decided to post taster boxes of Quaker Oats to every home in Portland, Oregon. This marked the first ever time that such a marketing technique had ever been utilized.

20. Not just for eating

Quaker Oats are obviously known as a breakfast meal, but they can be used for other things, too. If you blend them with water to make a paste, for instance, you can lather it all over your face – and voilà! You’ve just made an effective facial mask for your skin.

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19. A killer ingredient

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Back in 2018 some disturbing news emerged to strike fear into oat-lovers. The Environmental Working Group had undertaken research that revealed that a terrifying substance was present in numerous oat products. This is glyphosate, which is used to kill weeds. And Quaker Old Fashioned Oats actually contained more of the stuff than any other food investigated.

18. More ammo!

The Quaker Oats Company played its part in World War Two – and not just by producing oatmeal. At the time, the firm owned the QO Ordnance Company, which operated some factories in Nebraska. Armaments were produced there and then shipped to soldiers based in the Pacific.

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17. Back-of-the-box recipes

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It’s clear to see from the firm’s history that Quaker Oats has been willing to experiment with packaging in order to boost sales. And one thing the company tried in the 1890s was to paste directions for making oatmeal bread on its boxes. This was the first time that such a thing had been done, and the trend of recipes on boxes lives on today.

16. Quaker Oats and the Chocolate Factory

Crazy as it sounds, we actually have the Quaker Oats Company to thank for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In return for funding the movie, execs handed over the rights to produce Wonka-branded goods to Quaker. The firm didn’t hold on to these privileges forever, though, and offloaded them in the late 1980s.

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15. A sinister experiment

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In one of the more disturbing episodes of its history, Quaker Oats was once knowingly involved in a horrific experiment. It happened in 1949, when MIT scientists sought to understand how radioactivity impacted on people. So, they contaminated Quaker Oats with radioactive elements and fed them to abandoned kids. Though the experiment apparently didn’t seriously harm the boys involved, Quaker was forced to apologize in 1995.

14. A whole lotta oats

As you might imagine, it calls for a gargantuan amount of oats to keep Quaker’s yearly operations going. And that, in turn, requires a lot of space to allow for the crop to be cultivated. To keep the Quaker facility in Peterborough, Canada, running, oats are grown across roughly 100 square miles of land. And that’s just for one site!

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13. Chaotic beginnings

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The Quaker Oats Company didn’t come into being very smoothly. In fact, its founders were once rivals, each trying to outdo the others to come out on top of the oat industry. They came together in 1888 to establish the American Cereal Company, which became Quaker Oats 13 years later.

12. A remedy for chickenpox

Not only does oatmeal make for a hearty breakfast and an effective face mask, but you can also use it to alleviate the terrible itchiness caused by chickenpox. Just fill up a stocking with oats and then run a bath, with the stocking beneath the tap. The inflicted person should then remain in the water for around a quarter of an hour.

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11. Prized boxes

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We can all remember the joy of finding toys in our breakfast cereal boxes from when we were kids. And it turns out that we have Quaker to thank for that, as no other brand had ever tried the marketing move before. It must have proven effective, as it’s still a common practice today.

10. Mikey likes it

Those who were around in the 1970s and 1980s can probably remember that famous advert for Quaker’s Life Cereal. It’s become immortal now, but it almost never happened. Execs initially thought it was too dull and that it shouldn’t air. Ultimately, though, the commercial was broadcast and it now occupies a spot in TV lore.

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9. Health show-offs

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Food packaging is often covered in assertions of how the product in question is good for a person’s health. We’ve all seen it, but it wasn’t always like this. As a matter of fact, it only started happening in 1997 after Quaker lobbied the FDA to approve a positive claim appearing on the firm’s oatmeal containers.

8. Tone it down

Having secured the rights to include positive health assertions on its packaging, though, Quaker eventually had to tone things down a bit. The company was characterizing its oatmeal product as “unique” and alleging that it located and destroyed cholesterol in people’s bodies. That simply wasn’t true, so in 2007 the company had to stop making such claims.

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7. The problem with Popeye

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Back in 1990 the actual Quaker religious community spoke out against an ad campaign organized by the oatmeal company. The commercial starred Popeye the Sailor Man, who was shown to eat Quaker Oats and start fighting. As pacifists, the Quakers didn’t want their group’s name to be associated with violence, regardless of whether or not it was animated.

6. Breakfast was once a different affair

Before cereals were popularized in America, people ate things as varied as eggs, oysters, steak, pancakes and chicken for breakfast. But when the breakfast cereal industry started to grow, the meal started to change. Processed foods reigned supreme, and advertising campaigns told consumers that breakfast was more essential than any other meal. And given how prominent Quaker was at the time, we can say that it bears some responsibility for all this.

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5. Thank Quaker Oats for the brand name Cheerios

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Cheerios is one of the most recognizable brands of cereal on supermarket shelves. Yet if it hadn’t been for Quaker Oats, the product would’ve been known as “Cheerioats.” Quaker claimed that the use of the word “oats” in this name was infringing on its own copyright. So, the cereal became Cheerios. Probably for the best.

4. Big news in Peterborough

Right at the start of the 20th century, the Quaker Oats Company built a new facility in Peterborough, Ontario. This Canadian site was big news for people, with huge numbers showing up looking for work. It’s been reported that the line of jobseekers went far outside of the building.

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3. A cliffhanger

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It turns out that Larry the Quaker man really does get around the place. His likeness has shown up in all sorts of ad campaigns over the years, but one particular appearance was very surprising. According to reports, the famous mascot was once plastered onto the White Cliffs of Dover in England.

2. Want some land with your oats?

Of all the novel marketing tricks that the Quaker Oats Company attempted over the years, this one’s probably the wildest. People who bought the oatmeal in 1902 found that their purchase also contained a coupon for a teeny-tiny fraction of territory in a place called Milford. All they had to do was redeem the coupon to become the proud owners of roughly a square inch of territory.

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1. Larry’s makeovers

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Larry the Quaker man is certainly a traditional-looking guy, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been given makeovers throughout the years. Since becoming the face of Quaker Oats, Larry’s been depicted with a variety of different colors and hairstyles. He’s even shed some weight, no doubt because of his healthy breakfasts.

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