Henry Parsons Crowell founder of Quaker Oats and was an extraordinary businessman despite having to overcome a childhood deadly disease. Henry Parsons Crowell left an indelible mark on society by bringing oatmeal to America’s breakfast table, provided new methods of marketing and merchandising that are still revolutionary by today’s standards.
His father was a successful shoe manufacturer who left at age 36. Tuberculosis, the same disease that took his father’s life, almost took Henry’s life as well. Doctors recommended Henry’s only chance for survival would be to leave his home of Cleveland, OH and go to the Western United States. Therefore, much of his adolescent years were spent traveling through Colorado, Wyoming, California and Montana on horseback. Henry eventually ended up in Iowa where he purchased a farm.
Without a high school diploma or even the opportunity to have learned vital business lessons from his father, Henry had to rely on his own instincts in order to succeed. Shortly after purchasing his first farm in Iowa, a violent tornado ripped through the area and left many nearby farms in shambles. Miraculously however, his farm suffered no damage. Soon thereafter, he was offered far more than what he bought. Henry decided to sell and parlay the profits into putting an option on a much larger tract of land in South Dakota.
By 1880, oats were considered horse food, but Henry saw where rolled oats could become a part of America’s breakfast table. In 1881, Henry bought Quaker Mill and immediately hired an operations person to handle the mill while Henry focused his time and energy on creating a market for his rolled oats. A year later, he married his first love Lillie and shortly thereafter, they were blessed with a baby girl, Annie. In January 1885, only two and a half years into their marriage, Lillie suddenly got sick and died. Annie’s grandmother, Lillie’s mother, offered to care for 19 month old Annie and after much prayer, Henry agreed and then headed back to Quaker Mill to plunge himself fully into the business.
An idea came to him that was to change breakfast tables forever. Up to that point, oats were presented for sale in big barrels or boxes, set on the floors of grocery. He envisioned his oats on grocery store shelves in individual. The idea worked. Demand soared.
In 1888, Henry met, fell in love with and married Susan Coleman. She had a sharp business mind as well and introduced Henry to Frank Drury and his lamp stove invention. Henry and Frank formed the Cleveland Foundry Company and began producing and selling Perfection Stoves. By the end of the century, the success from this company alone made them both millionaires.