Looking Back

Lazy Farmer Rhymes for Thanksgiving

Sam MooreI haven’t run any of the Lazy Farmer rhymes for a good while, and I have only a couple left. The first one is from the Oct. 8, 1938, Michigan Farmer.

When I was young the women wore a lot of clothing on before
and twice as much as that behind, but now it seems that they don’t mind
a-goin’ ‘round with ev’ry knee in plain sight for the world to see.
It used to be a cause for shock if you should glimpse a tiny piece of sock,
but now bare ankles ain’t no treat; in fact, you see a lot of meat
where’er you go, for folks expose more than they cover up with clothes.
The bathin’ suits girls wear today would make my mother faint away.
When she was fixed up for a swim you couldn’t see a leg or limb.
But nowdays competition’s keen to let a lot of hide be seen.
Just why the women want to show bowlegs or swaybacks I don’t know,
the most has got so many flaws they ought to wear more clothes because
their clothes is prettier than them; when covered up with stitch and hem
they don’t look bad, but what a fright they are when they’re exposed to sight.

If we could make them women see how much better lookin’ they would be
with plenty clothes hung on their frame to cover up the faults of same,
we’d have a market for our wool, we wouldn’t have to plow and pull
our cotton, for the market would in that case surely be quite good.
This farmin’ job would be less tough if women only wore enough,
the skirts they wore in mother’s day would sure make cotton raisin’ pay;
the clothes she wore, both thick and full, used up an awful lot of wool.
Prosperity will come again if women listen to us men,
and hide their blemishes from view, and cover up their legs in lieu
of struttin’ ‘round for all to see their bunions and their corns, by gee!

In a Walmart store on a hot summer night, the old Farmer would likely flee in fright.
At the scantily clad women he would see, they’d make him step on his goatee, by gee!

This last one is more apropos to the season and is from the Nov. 3, 1951 issue of Ohio Farmer.

November’s coming tickles me: I’m always happy as can be
when winter time arrives again, cuz it’s the only season when
I can relax beside the fire and not arouse Mirandy’s ire.
It’s not like spring, when she screams loud if I don’t help get the fields all plowed;
in summer when small grain gets ripe, my loafing gives her cause to gripe;
in early fall, a million chores all pressure me to get outdoors,
and if I try to loaf and slack, she’s sure to make some nasty crack.

But soon as sky shows signs of snow and icy winds begin to blow,
the heat is off and I am free to do my loafing openly.
The choring won’t amount to much, just feeding cows and hens and such;
an hour of milking twice a day—that job’s Mirandy’s anyway;
some eggs to gather now and then, and I cannot remember when
Mirandy ever did allow me in the henhouse anyhow.
And so the next four months will be a mighty pleasant time for me;
instead of being forced to sneak off where I cannot hear her speak,
I now can squat in my own chair and know the boss won’t even care.

Wish’t I’d saved a “Punkin’ Pie” rhyme for now, but Happy Thanksgiving anyhow!

– Sam Moore

The lazy farmer checking out a modern girl

The lazy farmer checking out a “modern” girl. (Oct. 3, 1938, Michigan Farmer in the author’s collection)

Agricultural Progress

Sam MooreIn the year of 1881 a British engineer named Sir Frederick Bramwell, who was vice-president of the Royal Society of Arts, addressed that august body with, among other things, his take on the past 50 years of agricultural progress. Although he did hint at the possibilities of electric or compressed air as future sources of power, there was not even a whisper about the internal combustion engine, even though George Brayton in America, as well as Nicolaus Otto, Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach and Karl Benz in Germany had all developed more or less successful gas engines by 1880.

The title of Bramwell’s address was “Some Of The Developments Of Mechanical Engineering During The Last Half-Century,” and I found it in an 1881 Scientific American.

“In 1831, we had thrashing machines and double plows, and even multiple plows had been proposed, tried, and abandoned. Reaping machines had been experimented with and abandoned; sowing machines were in use, but not many of them; clod crushers and horse rakes were also in use; but as a fact plowing was done by horse power with a single furrow at a time, mowing and reaping were done by the scythe or the sickle, sheaves were bound by hand, hay was tedded by hand-rakes, while all materials and produce were moved about in carts and in wagons drawn by horses. At the present time we have multiple plows, making five or six furrows at a time, these and cultivators also, driven by steam, commonly from two engines on the head lands, the plow being in between, and worked by a rope from each engine, or if by one engine, a capstan on the other head land, with a return rope working the plow backward and forward; or by what is known as the roundabout system, where the engine is fixed and the rope carried round about the field; or else plows and cultivators are worked by ropes from two capstans placed on the two head lands, and driven by means of a quick-going rope, actuated by an engine, the position of which is not changed.

“And then we have reaping machines, driven at present by horses; but how long it will be before the energy residing in a battery, or that in a reservoir of compressed air, will supersede horse power to drive the reaping machine, I don't know, but I don't suppose it will be very long. The mowing and reaping machines not only cut the crop and distribute it in swaths, or, in the case of the reaping machine, in bundles, but now, in the instance of these latter machines, are competent to bind it into sheaves. In lieu of hand tedding, haymaking machines are employed, tossing the grass into the air, so as to thoroughly aerate it, taking advantage of every brief interval of fine weather; and seed and manure are distributed by machine with unfailing accuracy. The soil is drained by the aid of properly constructed plows for preparing the trenches; roots are steamed and sliced as food for cattle; and the thrashing machine no longer merely beats out the grain, but it screens it, separates it, and elevates the straw, so as to mechanically build it up into a stack. I do not know a better class of machine than the agricultural portable engine. Every part of it is perfectly proportioned and made; it is usually of the locomotive type, and the economy of fuel in its use is extremely great. I cannot help thinking that the improvement in this respect which has taken place in these engines, and the improvement of agricultural machinery generally, is very largely due to the Royal Agricultural Society, one of the most enterprising bodies in England.”

Of course, loyal Englishman that he was, Bramwell gave all due credit to the RAS, which, with their reaper, mower and other trials did do much to promote American manufacturers, such as Deere, Deering, McCormick and others, as well as those of the British Isles.

It would be so interesting to watch if men like Sir Bramwell could be given a glimpse of the wonderful machinery and technology available to today’s farmer and to hear their reaction. His eyes would bug out on stems if he were to behold a Case IH autonomous tractor accurately tilling or planting with no one at the controls.

For that matter, my Grandfather or Father would be thunderstruck—I am myself, sometimes. Think of it! From the team of horses and a walking plow I remember Dad using, to a driverless tractor in my lifetime! I saw the other day that Budweiser has successfully delivered beer using a driverless truck. Steel, cars, and countless other products are made largely by robots, and now they’re even bringing our beer.

What are humans going to do in the future?

– Sam Moore

Case IH Autonomous Concept Vehicle

The Case IH Autonomous Concept Vehicle. (Photo courtesy of Case-IH)

Over the Back Fence

Sam MooreHere are a few odds and ends I’ve run across while reading the old books and magazines in my collection.

Pray tell me how would man exist without the cow?
No milk or cream, nor any cheese; no butter for the spuds or peas.
No chocolate sundaes or parfaits; no fish or fowl with hollandaise.
No easy source of calcium, to build the bones and please the tum.
No ice cream cones or cheese fondue, and no Welsh rarebit, pas le tout!
No baby’s formula or bottle, no dishes loved by Aristotle.
No steaming stews with oysters swimmin’; no big strong men or lissome wimmin.
Pray tell how man could live at all – without the cow?

I found the following tongue-in-cheek (I think) story in a 1958 issue of The Farm magazine in a feature titled “Over the Back Fence.”

“I was over at Debbs Craig’s place, who lives a mile from my Johnson grass farm, last night watching television and the type of program got me to thinking. The program was a give-away show and I’ll admit all the winners’ faces glowed with pleasure when they won, in fact they were hysterical, but I have an idea they may not be quite as happy when they find they have to pay income tax on all that loot, especially the stenographer who won a $10,000 mink coat and will have to pay at least $2,000 tax, which is a lot for a coat, even a $10,000 one.

“But what I was thinking about is that there are other ways to make people happy. For example, take the television set at Debbs’ house. He bought it last year during the drouth.

“Crops were burning up, grass was turning brown, ground cracking open.  Debbs had been affected by the drouth. He wasn’t broke – he’s got money in the bank, owns his farm, has a two-year supply of silage in the ground, drives a good car, and got good equipment, but the drouth was getting him down. He’d get up every morning, take a look at the cloudless sky and the baked earth, and shake his head and decide to cut down on expenses even more.

“Then one night in August, we got a rain. It started raining about 11:30 and kept it up off and on all night. As any farmer knows, there’s nothing sweeter-sounding than a rain on the roof after a long dry spell. I thought it was going to be a real drouth-breaker, but actually when I got up about daybreak I noticed my rain gauge showed only an inch and two tenths. Enough to help out, but not nearly enough to break a drouth.

“I emptied my gauge, and then I thought, Debbs is not going to like this. He’ll be up in an hour or so and he’ll head for his gauge, and he’d feel a lot better if he had at least 2-1/2 inches.

“So I took a fruit jar full of water from my well over to his place and in the dawn’s early light added an extra inch and three tenths to his gauge.

“It was one of the nicest, most neighborly things I’ve ever done. Debbs glowed all over when he came out a little later on and saw the two and a half inches registered on his gauge, and he went into town and bought the television set his family had been after him to get, and the one I was looking at last night.

“A man should never get too busy to help his neighbor.”

And I do know what the following is about, as we didn’t get indoor plumbing in our western Pennsylvania farmhouse until I was a high school senior.


As far back in childhood as memory may go, one vessel greets me that wasn’t for show.
Kept ‘neath the bed where no one could see, it served the family with equal privacy.
Some called it “Peg” or “Thundermug,” others called it “The Pot,” and a few “The Jug.”
Bringing it in was a chore, no doubt, but woe betide the one who had to take it out!
Ours was enormous and could accommodate, at least six or seven or eight.
On cold rainy nights ‘twas a most useful urn, on cold winter mornings that rim would burn.
When business was rushing and extra good, each took his turn and did the best he could.
Sometimes in darkness, to our disgust and shame, we fumbled and slightly missed our aim.
The one for company was decorated well, but still had the old familiar smell.
Today I live modern and like it a lot, and yet I regret the passing of the pot.
For often I dream and it gives me a start, how it sweetens my memory and squeezes my heart.

– Sam Moore

Guernsey cows feeding

A group of Guernsey cows feeding. (Illustration from a 1961 issue of Farm Quarterly magazine in the author’s collection.)

Whitewall Tires

Sam MooreOn a hot night a few weeks ago, after a supper of corn on the cob and the lovely Miss Nancy’s delicious Swiss steak, I was sitting on the front porch enjoying a slightly chilled glass of Pinot Noir and watching the traffic on Route 45. Do you know, I saw absolutely zero cars with whitewall tires!

Sixty five years ago, if your car didn’t have whitewalls, you were a stodgy old stick-in-the-mud (like my Dad). At 16, my first car, a well-used 1940 Dodge didn’t have them, but somehow I organized a set of Port-A-Walls, that, although they stood a little proud of the tires at speed, simulated white walls pretty well.

My next car, a 1948 Nash, had real whitewall tires and I spent a lot of time with a brass-bristled wire brush and, although I bought Bleche-White, which was especially good for cleaning white walled tires, I found that cheaper Old Dutch, BAB-O or Comet cleansers worked just as well. Even in the winter, when it was difficult to wash the whole car, my buddies and I still managed to keep the wheels and tires of our cars pretty clean.

In the earliest days of rubber tires, the whole tire, tread and all, was white. Most of us think of rubber as being black, but natural rubber is sort of off-white. So when tires first began to be made from the stuff, they were white as well. The white rubber, however, was very susceptible to sun deterioration. Chemists discovered that by mixing carbon black into the natural rubber it increased durability and traction, and turned the rubber black.

At first, only the tread of the tire was made of carbonized rubber and both the inner and outer sidewalls remained white. But, all black tires came to be thought of as more durable, and the white sidewalls were covered with a thin layer of black rubber making them more desirable and much easier to keep clean.

Sometime during the early 1920s, balloon tires, which afforded a softer ride, were developed. The much wider sidewalls of these tires made them more prominent and, while they looked good on a light colored car, the owners of darker painted machines began to ask for white sidewalls again in order to contrast with the dark paint and gleaming chrome that became prevalent in the late ’20s and 1930s.

Then, during the 1930s, cars were lowered on the chassis, fender openings were made smaller and fender skirts were introduced by automobile designers, making the inside sidewall difficult to see. This led to single sided whitewall tires which were quite popular until World War II. During that conflict, when the supply of natural rubber from the southwest Pacific dwindled, and the military made heavy demands on the rubber industry, most people were just happy to have any old tires on their cars. So long as they held air, the color of the sidewalls mattered not a bit.

I mentioned my Dad earlier as not being a whitewall enthusiast. As long as I can remember, until he bought a new car sometime in the 1960s, he never had a whitewall tire on any of his cars, except once. I remember his old Cadillac, which had huge tires – 7.50X16, I think – wore a single whitewall during the early ’40s; he had picked it up used somewhere and it was all he could get during the wartime tire shortage.

After the war, tires and cars became plentiful again and the demand for the decorative tires boomed, even though they were a little more expensive. Those who couldn’t afford new tires, made do with the porta-walls, or even white tire paint – which wasn’t very satisfactory at best.

Remember curb feelers? The biggest bugaboo to whitewall tires was parallel parking – scrape a sidewall against a curb and there was an ugly black mark on the pristine whiteness of your tire. To prevent this, many people, including me, installed curb feelers – thin spring wires about 6 or 8 inches long that clamped to the lower edges of your right fenders and (hopefully) scraped the curb – to give an audible warning when a tire was close enough.

Sometime around 1960, in an effort to make cars look lower, a new tire was introduced that had a white stripe about an inch or so wide in the center of the black sidewall. Most even had a raised ridge of black rubber around the outside of the white stripe to protect it from pesky curbs, although a good hard hit could still cause damage. Other variations included two or three even narrower white stripes, or a red and a white stripe or a lone red one.

By the 1980s, whitewalls had fallen out of favor and are rarely seen today, except on antique or classic cars. Most folks in these hurried days can’t find the time to scrub scuffed tires and besides, whitewalls just aren’t cool anymore.

– Sam Moore

Automobile with whitewall tires

This 1929 ad for Budd wheels shows the wide whitewall tires that were becoming popular about that time. (From the June 29, 1929, issue of Automotive Topics in the author’s collection).

Tidbits from the National Stockman & Farmer

Sam MooreHere are some random tidbits from the Feb. 16, 1918, issue of the National Stockman & Farmer, that was published in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Under the heading, Horse Notes:

An attempt is being made in the New York State Legislature to turn the Harlem River Speedway over to the automobile.

During 1917 there were 19 trotters that won $10,000 or more. Early Dream heads the money list with $25,302.50 to his credit. Koroni leads on the number of races won with 35 to his credit.

The State Grange and the New York State Association of Horsemen are giving support to the bill now before the New York State Legislature which proposes a safe path for horses upon the highway. The bill provides that the shoulder on all state roads be extended, forming a dirt-stone side drive for horses.

New York City police department statistics show that 10,517 accidents and 402 deaths were caused by motor-driven vehicles as against 1,764 accidents and 56 deaths by horse-drawn vehicles.

Another blurb tells us, BELTS A MENACE TO THE HEALTH OF MEN. Medical men who have examined hundreds of thousands of military recruits are warning against the absence of suspenders. The increase of appendicitis, of sagging stomachs which fail to function properly, and other abdominal displacements, were found in sufficient proportion to raise the question as to what caused these conditions. Trousers held up by a belt and dragging upon flesh and muscle instead of the bony framework of the body, are given as one cause to all these difficulties. The hanging of clothing from the shoulders was one of the early lessons women learned in physical culture. It seems reasonable to suppose that men might benefit from the same.

A Utah reader sent the following letter: For twenty-one years my husband and I have lived and worked on a farm. Because a reservoir site took our farm and the fact our boys were attending school in the city, we moved into the city two months ago.

When the question of cleaning house came up my oldest boy suggested getting a janitor’s mop bucket and mop. The outfit cost as follows. Mop bucket containing a wooden wringer operated with the foot $2.50, mopstick shutting with a spring 15 cents, a heavy rope mop 60 cents, total $3.25. I found that with the addition of another mopstick that held a brush my boys could clean any floor as well as any woman and in a much shorter time. After house-cleaning was over I have used the outfit every day in the kitchen.

The mop seems a trifle heavy for me to handle but I find by moving slowly I do not mind the weight, and the weight cleans so well and surely that the work is accomplished in one-third the time. Further, the work is just about perfect.

The problem of cleaning was a sore burden on the old farm, as I had no girl and the boys were always busy, and I was ignorant of such help as this. For the benefit of any Stockman reader who may be in the same position as I was I am sending this.

Another letter from a Pennsylvania reader read: In many sections we have had two seasons in succession which emphasized the need of tile drainage. Several weeks ago I was in western Pennsylvania in the sections where thousands of acres must be drained before we have safe agriculture and there had a good object lesson. One farmer buried $17 dollars to the acre in tile drainage a few years ago. His near neighbor smiled a wise smile and put his money in the bank.

The neighbor may have his money in the bank but he has no corn in his field. He planted it late and too wet and could not get in it to cultivate until the weeds were master. He then seeded it to buckwheat and when in blossom the September frost hit and he got very little grain. He did a lot of labor and is not paid for it. The fellow who tiled was able to plant his corn in time and till it well and now has a crop that will easily make 50 bushel to the acre and more.

Which fellow is making the best interest on his money? Banks pay 3 1/2 percent and Liberty Bonds 4 percent. In comparison with corn at last year’s price the successful man is making 600 percent on his investment.

Real estate ads included these:

80 acres for $1,800; fairly good buildings and orchard, timber, etc. Easy terms. Cambridge, Ohio.

Farm of 136 acres. 10-room house with bath, hot water furnace, tenant house, fine lawn, modern large barn, on brick road and street car line. One of the best in Ohio. $150 per acre, worth $200. Canton, Ohio.

Correspondents from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Indiana all wrote complaining about the cold weather. A man from Adams County in southern Ohio was typical; Jan. 21: Twenty-three below zero this morning. A foot or more of snow and ice covers the ground. Many telephone poles broken off and wires down. Farm work at a standstill. Lots of corn in shock yet. Seed corn will be scarce and high in price and poor in quality. Wheat $2, corn $1.50, hay $25 to $32, eggs 58c, butterfat 55c. Plenty of feed. From the opposite corner of Ohio in Ashtabula County; Feb 3: The coldest winter for 35 years. Coldest January ever known. Ice 20 to 24 inches thick. Wells and cisterns going dry, farmers hauling water from the Grand river for their stock. Peaches killed. Not a rabbit or quail to be seen. Wheat $2.15, potatoes $1.50, corn $2.15-2.30, onions $1.50 bu., dressed pork $20-22.

Life was tough, but not nearly as bad as in war-torn Europe that bitter winter.

– Sam Moore

Boy with suspenders

This kid is doing it right; no restrictive belts for him. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Oliver Raydex Point

Sam MooreMost folks who did much plowing during the 1940s and ’50s knew about the revolutionary new “throwaway” plow shares from Oliver. An Oliver sales brochure from 1940 reads in part:

Characteristics of the Raydex Bottom

LOW COST INEXPENSIVE RAYDEX POINTS – Oliver was prompted to give the farmer something for his hard earned money so he can reduce his current cash outlay during plowing season. The absence of blacksmiths throughout the country, and the time wasted waiting on the blacksmith during the busy season and making trips to the blacksmith shop, gave Oliver Plow Designers the idea of the OLIVER RAYDEX POINT.

Our eagerness to help the American Farmer resulted in making a POINT for him that he can purchase for 75 cents in 12” size, 85 cents in 14” size, and 95 cents in 16” size.

The RAYDEX POINT sharpens itself until all of the suction is worn away. When the suction is entirely gone, a new RAYDEX POINT can be installed with a factory cutting edge and full width built-in suction.

ONE RAYDEX POINT will wear longer than one sharpening of a conventional share and costs no more than the average price that blacksmiths charge for resharpening.

Conventional shares are not capable of doing the same kind of work after they have been to the blacksmith as when they were new. The resharpened share may not scour as well and may not have the proper suction.

Let us assume that the blacksmith charges 75 cents for resharpening a share and 75 cents for repointing it once during its life of about three resharpenings.

Cost of a Conventional 14” Share.............................$4.00
Three Resharpenings.................................................2.25
One Repointing......................................................... .75
Total Cost of Conventional Share.............................$7.00

Compare this with the cost of four Oliver RAYDEX POINTS at 85 cents each, or $3.40. A TOTAL SAVING of $3.60. not mentioning the time and fuel saved in taking the shares to the blacksmith.

EXHAUSTIVE TESTS on Oliver’s Proving Grounds, the American Farmer's Own Field, has proven the RAYDEX BOTTOM AND THE RAYDEX POINT to be lighter draft than most bottoms.  (Some modern horse farmers dispute this, claiming that a plow with a Raydex bottom pulls much harder than an equivalent one with a conventional bottom. S.M.) They scour better and pulverize the soil more thoroughly

LIGHTER DRAFT – The RAYDEX BOTTOM pulls easier because a large part of the shearing of the furrow slice has been eliminated in turning the furrow. On conventional bottoms, each furrow slice had a turning point on the mouldboard shin and near the wing. This is eliminated in the RAYDEX BOTTOM which starts the slice turning at the cutting edge.

EASY SCOURING – The RAYDEX BOTTOM scours easily because of a more constant and well distributed soil pressure over the entire point and mouldboard.

GREATER PULVERIZATION – The RAYDEX BOTTOM pulverizes the soil more because the scientific curverature (sic) of the mouldboard permits the furrow slice to turn naturally.

PENETRATION – The RAYDEX BOTTOM penetrates hard soils with the ease of any other bottom. The RAYDEX BOTTOM has suction built into the full width of cut. A 14” bottom has 14” of ground suction.

Simple and Unique Construction

The RAYDEX BOTTOM mouldboard is made from Oliver's Off-Center Soft-Center steel, while the RAYDEX POINT is high grade solid steel. The mouldboard and points are tempered to resist wear and prevent excessive breakage. The points are subject to breakage just like a conventional share, but cost only 85 cents to replace, while a conventional share costs four dollars.

The mouldboard and standard of the RAYDEX BOTTOM are built closer to the cutting edge to support the RAYDEX POINT. The landside extends farther forward than on the conventional base with a gunnel type share and adds to the support of the RAYDEX POINT.

Another sales folder lists the three distinct types of Raydex bases available. The General Purpose Raydex Base was available in 12”, 14”, 16” and 18” sizes. The General Purpose and Sod Raydex Base  in 14” and 16” sizes, as well as the General Purpose and Clay Raydex Base in 12” size were also offered. All three bases could be equipped with replaceable shins if desired. Another paragraph reads: "Four RAYDEX POINTS do the same work as one old-fashioned share – and with every four RAYDEX POINTS, a farmer can put about half the original and maintenance cost of a conventional share in his pocket. RAYDEX POINTS come in handy boxes of six. In the 14” size, a package of six may be purchased for approximately the original cost of one conventional share.”

Oliver must have been on the right track since, during the 1950s, all the plow manufacturers went to the same style of throw-away share for their high speed tractor plows. The difference in cost between the old and new style shares is a lot more dramatic today than it was in 1940. Agri-Supply sells Raydex style shares for less than $20, while the old style shares, if you can find them, are somewhere around $100.

Raydex type bottoms and shares aren’t just for high speed tractor plows. Pioneer Equipment Inc., one of the largest manufacturers of modern horse drawn machinery, equips all their walking, sulky and gang plows with what they bill as “Oliver raydex type chilled steel” bottoms. Another major horse drawn plow builder, White Horse Machine Co., uses “419 Radex Bottoms” on their sulky and mounted plows.

During the past years I’ve plowed with both kinds of bottoms (using antique tractor-drawn plows), and the modern shares plow every bit as well as the old style. Besides, I don’t have to cringe every time the plow hits a rock when I’m using the much cheaper, throw-away shares.

4-bottom Oliver plow

This 4-bottom Oliver plow is equipped with Raydex bottoms and is being pulled by 12 Belgian horses. (Photo by Sam Moore)

The Origins of the Quaker Oats Co.

Sam MooreMy sister and I used to eat “Rolled Oats” for breakfast in the mornings, and Nancy still often has the same thing for her breakfast. In case anyone wonders where oatmeal and rolled oats came from, I recently came across a story about the life and times of Ferdinand Schumacher, known by contemporaries as “The Oatmeal King.”

Schumacher was born in Germany in 1822, attended school until 15 and then worked in a grocery store. At age 28, Ferdinand emigrated to the U.S. with his brother, and the two bought a small farm near Elyria, Ohio. A year or two later, he left the farm and started a notions store in Akron, which he soon converted to a grocery.

Schumacher had always eaten oatmeal for breakfast in Germany, but he found the only oatmeal available here in the States was imported – and expensive. Being one who squeezed a penny until the Indian squealed, Schumacher refused to pay the price and began to make his own oatmeal. He slowly toasted a pan of oats and then rubbed off the hulls and finely chopped the groats. The chopped oats were then cooked for several hours in an iron pot, and he and his family loved it. As soon as Schumacher’s German customers heard of it they began to ask for it too.

Demand increased and Schumacher opened a small factory to make the stuff sometime in the late 1850s. Most of his customers were still local, but that would change with the coming of the Civil War and the help of a fellow German and good friend, Erhard Steinbacher, a wealthy businessman in Akron.

Steinbacher had come from Bavaria in 1844 and took part in the California Gold Rush in 1849, where he made a bunch of money. In 1851, he returned to Akron, built a large brick building on Main Street, opened a successful grocery and drug store, and became a power in the local Republican Party. Due to his political connections, the Union Army appointed him to buy supplies when the war began.

The new army purchasing agent took care of his local friends and ordered tons of flour from Akron mills. He also pressed the army to buy Schumacher’s oatmeal as breakfast cereal for the troops. The army had been planning to feed them cornmeal, but Steinbacher insisted oatmeal tasted better and was more nourishing – he supposedly also said that cornmeal might be OK for Rebels but not nearly good enough for brave Union soldiers.

The army finally agreed to try 100 barrels of oatmeal. Although it wasn’t very much, it put Schumacher into a real bind to fill the order in time. He recognized his big opportunity however, hired extra people and worked them nonstop to meet the deadline.

Schumacher had anxious moments waiting to hear how his cereal had been accepted by the troops, most of who had never before eaten oatmeal and thought oats were for horses. He need not have worried – they loved it – and the army ordered tons of the stuff. Schumacher kept expanding his mill, which he named the German Mill, and installed modern machinery. The army also needed a source of pearled barley so Schumacher built an entirely new mill on S. Summit Street that he called the Empire Barley Mill, which was completed and in full operation before the end of 1863.

By the time the war ended, Schumacher was considered the wealthiest man in Akron, but although he contributed generously to churches and the temperance movement, he continued his miserly habits, refusing to pay what he considered the high cost for an overcoat and instead wearing only an old wool shawl in the winter. His sons thought this was disgraceful but couldn’t convince the “wealthiest man in Akron” to spring for a new coat. They schemed with a local clothier – the next time Schumacher passed the store, the clothier called him in, showed him a fine new $70 coat and offered it to him for only $20. The boys had agreed to pay the clothier the difference. Of course, Schumacher couldn’t resist the bargain and bought the coat. On his way down the street, proudly wearing his new coat, he met a friend who admired the garment and offered him $40 for it. Schumacher bargained a bit and got the price up to $45 at which point he sold the man the coat, donned his shawl and happily walked off. The sons had to pay the clothier $50 and their Dad still didn’t have a coat.

In 1886, a fire swept through Schumacher’s giant mill, leaving a $600,000 loss. There was no insurance, as Schumacher believed that insuring against such “Acts of God” was blasphemous (plus, insurance cost money) and, although he was still rich, he didn’t have the ready cash to rebuild.

Schumacher’s success had spawned a number of competitors in Akron, the largest and newest of which was the Akron Milling Co. A merger between Schumacher and Akron Milling was worked out and the new firm was called the F. Schumacher Milling Co. with a capitalization of $2 million, and the oatmeal business again boomed.

In 1891 “combine fever” was strong in the country; Schumacher and most of his bigger competitors combined into The American Cereal Co., of which the old man was the president until 1899 (wonder if he still wore his shawl), when the “Oatmeal King” was deposed by some younger and more progressive members of the combine. Instead of barrels, they packed their oat cereal in individual boxes bearing the name “Mother’s Oats.”

In 1901, the Quaker Oats Co. took over and “Quaker Oats” cereal with the picture of the Quaker man on the box became the standard for oatmeal and rolled oats. By 1925, the Quaker Oats Co. was shipping a hundred carloads of cereal each day, but today, although “Mother’s Oats” and “Quaker Oats” cereals are still widely available, I don’t think any of them are made in Akron.

– Sam Moore

Quaker Oats advertisement

A 1905 ad for Quaker Oats (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).