The Origins of the Quaker Oats Co.

| 5/31/2016 1:51:00 PM

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.


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