The A. M. Johnston Oat Meal Company, said to have been the first oatmeal mill west of the state of Ohio, was located in Rockford in the 1870’s. This firm later became the Rockford Oatmeal Company, and eventually the American Cereal Company, which was the forerunner of the Quaker Oats Company.
George H. Cormack left Scotland in 1871 and came to Canada. He stayed in Canada a short time before he came to Rockford, where he joined forces with Andrew M. Johnston, a wholesale grocer from Buffalo, and built an oatmeal plant under the name A. M. Johnston Oatmeal Company. George H. Cormack was the man who first made oatmeal west of Chicago and the inventor of rolled oats and the equipment and process for their manufacture. Cormack’s Nudavene Flakes was the first brand of that kind of breakfast food.
In 1882 it was incorporated with a capital stock of $75,000, which was increased to $120,000. The following were the officers of the company, Hon. Robert H. Tinker, President; George H. Cormack vice president and superintendent; Frank C. King, secretary and treasurer. In 1882 a stock company was organized with Robert H. Tinker as president, and G. H. Cormack as secretary. After it became a stock company, Andrew M. Johnston left Rockford and went to pursue other interests in California. Cormack’s Nudavene Flakes were the first rolled oats to appear on the market and were placed before the public at the New Orleans exposition of 1884 – 1885 and was awarded a gold medal.
On November 1, 1886 the A. M. Johnston oat meal mill was destroyed by fire, the winds out of the south blowing flames and ashes for blocks to the north, also caught several other buildings on fire. When the oat meal mill was rebuilt, it was enlarged and the name changed to the Rockford Oatmeal Company. The Rockford Oatmeal Mills, located at 608 – 616 Cedar Street. The mill was an immense brick and stone structure, four stories and basement and 112 X 70 feet in dimension, besides several large warehouses with a storage capacity for 100,000 bushels of grain. The capacity of the mills was 300 barrels of oat meal a day, which consumed 4,000 bushels of oats, while their shipments amounted to five rail cars daily. The annual output was around 70,000 barrels, consuming about a million bushels of oats, making the annual cash business of the mill close to $750,000. The massive plant had 80 employees. They were the first oat meal company to make the transition from selling the product in bulk barrels to offering smaller, individual packages to the consumers marked with brand names. They began to sell their oatmeal and other grain products in 2-lb boxes.
The specialties of the company were Cormack’s Celebrated Oat Meal and Nudavene Flakes, and their products were known worldwide. The name Nudavene means naked oats. The company sent out many trade cards, which were the forerunner to post cards to help sell their products.
Seven oatmeal millers, all located east of the Rocky Mountains, merged together in January 1891 to form the American Cereal Company. The merged firms are listed below and consisted of the following;
Rockford Oatmeal Co. (A. M. Johnston) – Rockford, Illinois
Quaker Mill Co. – Ravenna, Ohio
Douglas and Stuart (Cereal Milling Company) – Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Hower & Co. – Akron, Ohio
Newell Bros. Co. – Cleveland, Ohio
Oatmeal Co. of Iowa City – Iowa City, Iowa
F. Schumacher Milling Co. – Akron, Ohio
Again on September 29 1891 the mill was destroyed by fire, but was not rebuilt, as prior to that date the company had become a member of the American Cereal company, a consolidation of a number of oatmeal mills due to excess production at many mills. In 1901 the Quaker Oats company was founded as a holding company and took over the larger part of stock of the American Cereal company. In 1906 Quaker Oats took over all assets of the American Cereal Company and became an operating corporation. George H. Cormack who had many patents covering the equipment and processes used in making oatmeal, was hired by the Quaker Oats company, and until his death in December, 1911, he remained as designer and engineer in the employ of the Quaker Oats company.
Throwback Thursday Rockford edition is made possible by our friends over at Rockford Reminisce! They do an awesome job of researching and bringing readers some awesome historical facts and stories about our great city!
With their help, we are bringing you some historical highlights every Thursday morning for #TBTRockford!
Enjoy this week’s installment of TBT Rockford featuring A. M. Johnston Oatmeal Company!