Schumacher—the Oatmeal King
AKRON & SUMMIT COUNTY
Karl H. Grismer,
Summit County Historical Society,
Akron, Ohio c. 1950 p 174-179
Schumacher—the Oatmeal King
A German immigrant was
one of the first persons in Akron to prosper because of the Civil
War. He was Ferdinand Schumacher, soon to become nationally famous
as the "oatmeal king."
A short, sturdy man,
with a large head and deep-set eyes, Schumacher had come to the
United States in 1850 from his home in Celle, Hanover. At that
time he was twenty-eight years old. He lived a year on a farm in
Euclid, near Cleveland, and then came to Akron. Here he ran a
notion store on Howard Street for a while and later opened a
grocery on Market Street.
Schumacher was fond of
oatmeal. He had always eaten it for breakfast back in Germany and
wanted to keep on eating it after he came to America. But he
learned that the only oatmeal obtainable was imported—and
Being a frugal
individual, Schumacher refused to pay the prevailing high price
for his favorite cereal. He decided to make some himself —he had
watched it being manufactured in Germany and was familiar with the
Taking a panful of oats,
he toasted them carefully an hour or so over a slow fire until
they began giving off a sweet nutlike odor. Then he rubbed off the
hulls and chopped the groats into tiny cubes. Next, he took
several large handsful of the meal and cooked it in a heavy iron
kettle, slowly, for several hours, stirring it often to prevent
Schumacher could hardly
wait until the oatmeal was thoroughly cooked. Towards the end, he
lifted the lid every few minutes and sniffed the rising vapor. It
smelled heavenly and he could wait no longer. He pushed the kettle
off the fire, dished out a bowlful, added cream and sugar, and sat
down to eat.
The cereal was
delicious—as good and perhaps even better than any he had ever
eaten in Germany. Schumacher was delighted—now he could have all
the oatmeal he wanted, at practically no cost.
At first Schumacher made
only enough oatmeal to supply his family's needs. But he bragged
about his feat to fellow Germans who traded at his store. Their
appetites whetted, they demanded that he make some for them. So
when he prepared his next batch of oats he filled a glass jar with
meal and placed it on sale at his store. It was gone in no time.
found it profitable to make more and more oatmeal. But no one
knows exactly when he started manufacturing it on a large scale.
Some say he had a little oatmeal plant on N. Howard Street as
early as 1856; others say he did not open the plant until 1859.
In any event it is certain that Schumacher was a long, long
way from being an oatmeal king when the Civil War began. It is
doubtful whether his production at that time exceeded a few
barrels a day; quite possibly it was much less.
But in 1861 the thrifty
Schumacher got a break—a tremendous break. He got it through one
of his best friends, a fellow German who also had fled from
oppression in his fatherland. He was Erhard Steinbacher, grocer
Born in Bavaria and
educated at Heidelberg, Steinbacher had first come to America in
1844. He lived in Cleveland and Akron several years and then went
back to Germany. Finding conditions even worse than when he was
there before, he quickly returned to the United States. He got
back in time to join the Forty-niners in the California gold rush,
being one of the first members of the Akron Mining Company.
Steinbacher made a stake, part of it in the gold fields and the
remainder in merchandising. Returning to Akron in 1851, he built a
three-story brick building on the south side of Market Street a
little east of Howard, a building which in 1952 was still
standing, one of the oldest in the business section. He also
invested heavily in land and in his building opened a grocery and
drug store. It became one of the leading stores in Akron.
Becoming an ardent
Republican, Steinbacher had many influential friends in the party
and when the Civil War started was authorized by the quartermaster
general to purchase supplies for the army in this territory. He
placed huge orders for flour with local mills and before the war
was many months old, all were running at peak capacity.
In making his purchases,
Steinbacher did not forget his good friend Schumacher. He insisted
that the army buy oatmeal to serve the soldiers for breakfast—it
was much tastier and more nourishing than any other cereal which
could be obtained, infinitely better than cornmeal. That stuff, he
declared, might be good enough for Southern rebels but certainly
not good enough for fighting Yankees.
After weeks of arguing,
Steinbacher's German persistence won and the quartermaster's
office reluctantly agreed to take a sample order of a hundred
barrels. Just a hundred barrels—from an army standpoint, hardly an
order worth mentioning. But for Schumacher, the order was
He was doubtful at first
whether he could produce such a staggering quantity in time to
meet the delivery date. But he realized that this was an
opportunity he might never have again. So he hired extra men and
kept his plant operating night and day, seven days a week. Because
of the war emergency, laws against working on Sunday were
After the oatmeal was
shipped, Schumacher anxiously waited to learn how it would be
received in the army camps. He knew that few soldiers had ever
eaten the cereal and was afraid many would refuse to taste it,
just because it was something new. But his fears were
unjustified. The soldiers liked it. Army orders for oatmeal began
To supply the demand,
Schumacher increased the capacity of his mill time and again and
installed modern machinery. Pridefully, he called his plant the
By mid-1862 Schumacher's
reputation as a reliable manufacturer was thoroughly established,
and he was asked to start producing pearl barley, badly wanted by
the army. Complying with the request, he built a separate mill on
S. Summit Street, near the depot, which he called the Empire
Barley Mill. It was completed and in operation before the end of
1863. Thereafter smoke belched from its chimneys twenty-four hours
a day until the war ended.
There is no doubt but
that Schumacher profited richly from his war orders. When the
conflict ended he was rated as being the wealthiest man in Akron.
But he had not pocketed
all the profits. He had been smart enough to realize that his
plants would be idle at the close of hostilities unless he built
up a civilian demand for his products. So he had used much of his
gains to employ salesmen to call on stores in Cleveland,
Cincinnati and other large cities, and he had wisely allotted a
good share of his production to the developing civilian market.
Because of these precautions, his plants did not become idle when
war orders ended.
Soldiers who had first
eaten oatmeal in the army continued to want it when they got back
home and the popularity of the cereal increased. By 1870
Schumacher was recognized as the leading cereal manufacturer of
the nation. When the original German Mill burned down on February
27, 1872, he immediately built a much larger, better mill
alongside his Empire Mill on Summit Street; it also was called the
German Mill. Other buildings followed, including a fine office
building at Mill and Broadway, a large drying house, and the
enormous eight-story Jumbo Mill on Broadway. Schumacher, the German
immigrant, had made good.
Flour Mills Work Overtime
Owners of flour mills
also prospered amazingly during the 1860s. Never before had they
received such tremendous orders.
During this period the
famous Allen Mills leaped to the fore. They were the descendants
of J. & J. Allen & Co., organized in 1856 to convert the Perkins
Woolen Mill plant into a flour mill. The concern was headed by
Alexander H. Commins, son of Dr. Jedediah Commins, and Albert
Allen, a nephew of Jacob and Jesse Allen.
Able and aggressive,
these two men soon got more business than they could handle in the
woolen mill building and in 1862 took over the Center Mill, built
in 1839, and five years later purchased the famous Stone Mill, at
the foot of Mill Street. At this time the name of the firm was
changed to Commins & Allen. The Stone Mill was renovated from top
to bottom, large additions were built, new machinery installed,
and the water power was supplemented by a 125-horsepower steam
engine which ran five of the eleven sets of buhrs.
The Commins & Allen
Mills grew steadily and had a capacity of 300 barrels of flour a
day at the time of Commins' death on August 17, 1880.
The growth of the
company was due in no small degree to the deep friendship which
existed between the partners, and the confidence they had in each
other. When Commins' will was read, it was learned that he had
made Allen sole executor of his estate, to serve without bond.
The closest competitor
of Commins & Allen for many years was Chamberlin & Co., headed by
Philo Chamberlin, one of Akron's pioneer promoters who had served
as mayor in 1848. A shrewd operator, he engaged in all sorts of
enterprises, ending his career many years later as part owner of a
fleet of Great Lakes steamships.
Chamberlin started his
milling operations in 1843 when he bought an interest in the City
Mills. In 1862 he bought the Aetna Mills, just west of the foot of
Furnace Street, which had burned in 1852 and been rebuilt. During
the mid-1870s Chamberlin became preoccupied with his affairs in
Cleveland and sold his interests to his associate, George M.
McNeil and James N. Baldwin, who formed the firm of McNeil &
Baldwin. They put in machinery for making flour by a new process
and by 1880 were turning out 200 barrels a day.
Schumacher, the oatmeal
king, also was a leading manufacturer of flour. He purchased the
Cascade Mills, on the Cascade Mill Race at North Street, in 1868
and spent a small fortune installing the finest water power
machinery ever used by an Akron mill. The giant mill wheel was 36
feet in diameter and weighed 37 tons. When the plant was
completely renovated and greatly enlarged it was rated as one of
the finest mills in the state.
For many years all
shipments of flour and cereals from Akron mills were made in
barrels. By 1880 more than 500,000 were used annually. To make
them, more than 125 coopers were employed by the five leading
barrel factories. Many of these coopers were Germans who had
learned the trade in the Old Country. Literally hundreds of
present day Akronites are descendants of those craftsmen.
In 1880 the principal
barrel firms were headed or owned by C. B. Maurer, T. J. Walker,
Lapp & Riner, George Roth and Edward Zschech.
Beginning about 1870
many wholesale grocers throughout the country started demanding
that the millers supply them with flour in less than barrel lots.
They insisted that at least part of their orders should be shipped
in 48 and 24 pound paper sacks.
To supply the sacks
required, the Akron Paper Company was organized in 1872 by Thomas
Phillips, George W. Crouse and John R. Buchtel. Later the concern
was incorporated as the Thomas Phillips Co. Many of Akron's
leading business men were stockholders. A brick mill was erected
on W. Exchange at the canal. By 1880 three and a half tons of old
rope were being used daily by the firm to produce the manila paper
used for the sacks. The concern's output of about 700 tons of
paper a year was valued at $160,000. Seventy hands were employed.
The mill burned in February, 1891, but was immediately rebuilt.
Establishment of the
Schumacher mills and booming business for the flour mills merely
started the parade of prosperity-breeding developments from which
Akron Benefited during the Civil War.