Searching for the origins of Quaker Oats

Quaker Oats

Every morning I have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and I truly enjoy it.  I don’t eat oatmeal for the health benefits, even though that’s a plus. I eat oatmeal because of the texture – it’s filling.  It’s especially good when I add fruit like dried cranberries or fresh blueberries. Quaker makes the best oats – it’s undeniable. I was surprised to discover that Quaker Oats has early connections to Oxford County. A John Stuart of Ingersoll made  contributions to the Quaker Oats company. As well, there is an E.D. Tillson of Tillsonburg connection.

Historian Arthur Williams identifies John Stuart of Ingersoll as one of the founders of Quaker Oats. Stuart was, surprisingly, a fish monger. He immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1849 and had bit of bad luck, for he and his family were shipwrecked off the coast of Newfoundland. They stayed there for almost half a year until they were rescued and able to continue on to Ontario.

turner painting

Stuart and his family then moved to Zorra township and lived near the James Munro Oatmeal mill. Here Stuart created a sort of barter system, trading oatmeal from the mill for fresh fish which he got from residents of the Queen’s Bush counties as well as, Goderich.

However, John Stuart longed to have a mill of his own and in 1852 he purchased a mill in Ingersoll, Ontario. This mill was known as North Star Mill, located on Canterbury Street, beside Stuart’s pond which was later known as “the village pond”, then “Partlo’s Pond”.

partlos-pond-19111

According to Arthur Williams, John Stuart and his family stayed in this area until the 1870′s before Stuart visited the United States. Here is where the confusion begins.

According to a 1929 article of the Woodstock Sentinel Review, Stuart dies in Ingersoll.The article recalls the memories of an E.V. Tillson of Tillsonburg, (probably E.D.’s son Edwin VanNorman) who states that Stuart died in Ingersoll and did not venture out to the States.

As well, Wikipedia acknowledges a “Robert” Stuart as the founder of Quaker Oats, supposedly a son, and the Quaker Oats website itself, gives some credit to our John Stuart, but most of the emphasis is, understandably, on the American partners.

Williams states that eventually an S.W. King took over the Ingersoll mill, while the Sentinel-Review acknowledges another Stuart son, Alexander, as John’s successor.

Williams insists that by the late 1870′s, John Stuart traveled to the United States and created a partnership with George B. Douglas, the contractor who built the North Western Railway. In this partnership they built a mill at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Some sources agree to the building of the American mill but not the location.)

Ten years later, Stuart and Douglas joined forces with two other companies and formed the American Cereal Company, says Williams. In 1903 the company took on the name Quaker Oats Company. They would open a Canadian branch in the 1940′s.

While Stuart was interested in oats from an economic standpoint, Tillson grew and ate oats for health reasons.

Tillson

The Tillson/Quaker connection came about through the acquisition of the Canadian Cereal & Milling Company by Quaker in 1917. The Canadian Cereal & Milling Company was established in 1910 and was a conglomerate of five oatmeal mills and eight flour mills in Ontario. The Tillson mills were part of this new company. Tillson’s pan-dried oatmeal was still being made here in Tillsonburg, but was sold as manufactured by “the Canadian Cereal & Milling Company” not the Tillson Company Ltd., as it had prior to 1910.

In 1916 a large explosion at the Quaker mill in Peterborough almost shut down the company. Most of the plant was leveled and several men lost their lives. In order to continue operations in Canada, Quaker bought the CC & MC in February of 1917. They continued for a short time to produce oatmeal in Tillsonburg using the Tillson name, which they had purchased the rights to, when they purchased the CC & MC.

The boxes read “Tillson’s Rolled Oats” manufactured by the Quaker Company of Canada Ltd. The oatmeal was the rolled Quaker process, not the pan-dried Tillson process. Quaker gradually phased out the use of the Tillson name, changing the Tillson Scottish gentleman on the box into the Quaker gentlemen everyone knows today.

Tillson shipped his pan-dried oats globally and in 1900 launched an ad campaign that saw full page ads in the Globe & Mail. They hired a Toronto advertising firm to create the campaign, which won the firm an award in advertising circles. Quaker’s purchase of the Tillson name effectively wiped out the competition, as most people today, only associate the Quaker name with oatmeal.

So, what is the oat market like now in Oxford County?

Oak Manor Farms is the leading contender in organic grains – especially cereal. They are located at 756907 Oxford Rd. 5, R.R.#1, Tavistock, Ontario. N0B 2R0, Phone (519) 662-2385, Email oakmanor@golden.net.

Sources:

Special thanks to Patricia Phelps, curator of the Annandale National Historic Site for information relating to E.D. Tillson.

Zorra Fishmonger Founded the Quaker Oats by Arthur Williams, Arthur Williams Collection, History of Oxford County Resource Kit,  compiled by  Woodstock Public Library, Local History Dept, Susan V. Start.

“Oxford Miller was Founder of Largest Mills”, Woodstock Sentinel-Review, March 18, 1929.

“Tillson, Edwin Delevan”. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Retrieved Oct 4th, 2012.

“A Brief History of Tillsonburg”. Point59.ca. Retrieved Oct 4th, 2012.

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8 Responses to Searching for the origins of Quaker Oats

  1. Awesome! A little food history, just what I like.

  2. Thanks for the history lesson. I’m from Ontario originally and find this a very interesting story!

  3. xpat92 says:

    Hello,
    Thank you for your visit to my blog and your kind words.
    It is fascinating to read about product histroy. I do eat Quaker Oats; now I know some of the story behind it!

  4. John Stuart IV says:

    Great article on Quaker Oats ~ wish my Great Grandfather was here to see this!

  5. Even a Newfoundland connection. How about that? ;)

  6. Lyn Leahz says:

    I love oatmeal and i love oatbran…and I love oatmeal products on my skin too! LOL! A food you can eat and wear! Hey!

  7. Kasha says:

    This is fascinating! I had no idea….

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