Is the "Quaker Oats Guy" a Quaker?

10th September 2023

Short answer: No.

Longer Answer: there are reasons why he’s there, and they do connect with Quaker history.

Quaker Oats belongs to PepsiCo today but the brand was created in 1877 for a cereal mill in Ohio, USA. The story goes that the founders, Henry Seymour and William Heston, had read about Quakers and our reputation for good quality, honesty, and integrity and wanted to associate that with their product.

The original mark was described as “a figure of a man in ‘Quaker Garb’”. He’s shown holding a scroll bearing the word “PURE”. This fellow is wearing the usual dress of a sober and respectable gent of the late 17th century: stockings, knee-britches, long waistcoat, neck-cloth and a big, low-crowned hat. What makes his costume “Quaker” is that it is very plain. The original illustration is not coloured, and while modern representations tend to have him in black in fact Quakers of the time preferred to wear grey, or brown, or sometimes undyed wool. Black was at the time an expensive and glamourous colour, and Quakers tried to avoid such vanity. Our man’s clothes have none of the fashionable decorations of the era, either.

Some think that “oats guy” looks like William Penn. Maybe? He’s a Quaker of the right period for the outfit, well-known in America as the founder of Pennsylvania. Penn received a grant of the land from Charles Stuart, called king, in 1681 to settle a debt to Penn’s father. He established Pennsylvania as a safe haven for Quakers who were severely oppressed by the restored crown and re-established Church of England.

Quakers do have a history in trade. While Quaker Oats are merely taking advantage of the Quaker reputation, Quakers did in fact create many well-known brands. In grocery, Quakers founded Cadbury’s, Rowntree’s, and Fry’s confectionery; Carr’s biscuits, Jacob’s, and Huntley and Palmer; Bewley’s tea and coffee. Quakers’ interest in tea, coffee, and cocoa was in part driven by their interest in temperance, and providing an alternative to alcoholic drinks.

Reckitt household goods, Allen and Hanbury’s pharmaceuticals, and Clark’s shoes were also Quakers’ businesses. Quakers had a large part to play in the early days of the industrial revolution and were also major financiers. Part of that oppression of Quakers in the Restoration period, and into the 19th century, was that we couldn’t enter the university-educated professions. As late as 1836 only professing Anglicans could graduate from a university in England. So Friends went into business and founded companies. And there we got the reputation for honesty, reliability, and selling a high-quality product for a fair price that the Quaker Oats company wanted to borrow.

Which companies did you know were Quaker founded?


Keith Braithwaite - Disley Quaker Meeting. You can find more from Keith on Reddit, Mastadon and Twitter/X.