Engraved portrait of Ferdinand Schumacher, a manufacturer from Akron, Ohio, ca. 1875-1900.
Ferdinand Schumacher was born in Germany in 1822. In 1851, he immigrated to Akron, Ohio, where he established a small grocery store. Schumacher favored selling simple and inexpensive items in his store. One of these items was oats, but most Akron residents refused to buy this food product for themselves. Most Ohioans who grew oats did so to feed livestock. Over time, Schumacher began experimenting with new ways to package and prepare oats. In 1854, he began to chop the oats into one-ounce square blocks. By processing oats in this manner, Schumacher presented his fellow Ohioans with an easy way to eat and to utilize oats, causing a growing demand for the crop.
In 1856, Schumacher purchased a mill along the canal in Akron. He installed machinery that permitted his workers to produce twenty barrels of ground oats per day. Demand for his product skyrocketed during the American Civil War, as the federal government purchased the oats to feed Union soldiers. The canal and railroads allowed Schumacher to expand his markets as well. In 1863, due to the demand for the oats, Schumacher moved his operation to Mill Street in Akron, where he established the Empire Barley Mill. He continued to experiment with new ways to process oats, developing a way to pre-cook the oats and having them turn into flakes. Schumacher's flaked oats became an immediate best seller. Schumacher sold his oats across the United States from Boston, Massachusetts, to San Francisco, California.
In 1886, Schumacher experienced a setback. The Empire Barley Mill caught fire. The plant was destroyed. Schumacher had refused to buy insurance, believing that God would protect him and his property. Akron residents panicked, as Schumacher's business was the city's major employer. Adding to Schumacher's difficulty, he began to face increasing competition from other oat processors, including the Akron Milling Company. Despite the competition, Schumacher's products remained much preferred over those of other millers. Without capital to rebuild his business, Schumacher proposed a merger of his company and the Akron Milling Company. The president of the Akron Milling Company agreed, realizing that Schumacher's reputation for producing a quality product would mean a tremendous return in profits. As a result of this merger, the F. Schumacher Milling Company was formed.
Schumacher's new business quickly thrived, but new competitors arose. Hoping to reduce competition, the investors in the F. Schumacher Milling Company agreed to merge with several additional companies to create the American Cereal Company. The company continued to manufacture oats, selling the product with the picture of a Quaker on the packaging. In 1901, as the American Cereal Company began producing additional products, a parent company was formed, known as Quaker Oats. Unfortunately for Schumacher, he was no longer part of the American Cereal Company when the Quaker Oats Company was created. Schumacher had served as the American Cereal Company's first president, but animosity with other investors caused them to remove him in 1899. Schumacher's hard work and reputation had created the largest cereal manufacturer in the world during the early 1900s. Schumacher died in 1908.