The pure and honest Quaker Oats guy: a biography
This is his biography.
Birth, 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.
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.
An ad from the same year showed a rougher Quaker guy in his distinctive pose, but with a brown coat.
Another early ad showed a squat Quaker.
Standardization was necessary, and it came in 1946.
The 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.
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.