The pure and honest Quaker Oats guy: a biography

There are a lot of questions about the Quaker Oats guy. Who is he? Were the founders Quaker? Is he modeled after William Penn? An advertising icon, he’s one of the few remaining distinctly human mascots, and his religious associations make him even more rare. The Quaker Oats guy was born in the 1870s and, even today, smiles at the intersection of breakfast and commerce.

This is his biography.

Early Quaker AdBirth, thanks to the 1877 equivalent of a Wikipedia binge

The founders of Quaker Oats weren’t Quakers. They came up with the name almost at random.

According to the company, cofounder Henry Seymour read about Quakers in an encyclopedia one day and thought they sounded nice. It’s as simple as that.

Quaker established the first trademark for cereal and got the ball rolling. The brand established its consistent look early on. It trumpeted its trademark both because it was new and because it deterred imitators.

At the time, it was key to establish a product’s legitimacy as quickly as possible. The Quaker name represented purity, honesty, and integrity, which made it valuable for the box. In fact, the purity angle was so important that the Quaker guy had a scroll that read “Pure” on the front.

Was the Quaker man modeled after William Penn?

The Quaker Oats guy has a persistent rumor: that he was modeled after famous Quaker William Penn. The resemblance is definitely there.

William Penn

However, there’s no way to really know. The company insists he’s not an actual person, and that’s echoed by an 1897 trademark application that only mentions generic “Quaker garb.” Ultimately, whether the Quaker guy is Penn is subjective—it could be a generic Quaker, or the artist might have modeled his depiction off a picture of William Penn (it wouldn’t be the first time somebody copied their work from an encyclopedia).

The Quaker Guy grows up with different artists

The Quaker Oats guy had remarkably consistent portrayals, but technology limited exact copies. As different artists in the 1900s illustrated him, they gave him slightly different looks.

This 1907 image has rosy cheeks and somewhat pronounced lips.

Rosy Quaker

An ad from the same year showed a rougher Quaker guy in his distinctive pose, but with a brown coat.

Brown Quaker Oats Guy

Another early ad showed a squat Quaker.

Squat Quaker

Standardization was necessary, and it came in 1946.

Quaker Oats Midcentury Saul BassThe Quaker Oats guy gets a real portrait

Using the classic Quaker Oats logo as his guide, in 1946, designer Jim Nash drew a portrait of the man. That was later expanded into a color picture by Haddon Sundbloom (who drew the famous Coca Cola Santas). In 1970, Saul Bass, the famous logo and movie poster designer, made a cut out version of the same portrait.

From there, the Quaker guy stayed consistent until 2012.

Quaker Guy goes on a diet and gets a fake name

In 2012, Quaker made a modest change to the Quaker Oats guy. They slimmed him down.
Quaker Oats Makeover

According to the brand, they took off “about five pounds” from the Quaker guy to reflect a more active lifestyle, a new haircut, and radiant skin from regular oatmeal masks (yes, they actually said that). They also began saying he was affectionately known as “Larry” (which, for the record, is not a traditional Quaker name). Still, the makeover is relatively modest, and Quaker said their goal was subtlety.

For a logo so old, the Quaker guy hasn’t changed a lot, but the end of his biography has yet to be written.

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Which version of the logo do you prefer? How might he change in the future?