116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A Quaker mystery
Does anyone know the history of this 5-inch Quaker Oats tin?
By Jessica Cline and Rob Cline, - The History Center
Apr. 25, 2023 5:00 am
With the help of our friends at The History Center, your correspondents have had a fair amount of success chasing down the answers -- or at least possible answers -- to an array of questions.
Who was Pat Mason -- and did she play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League?
What was the backstory of some early 20th century printing blocks depicting the Cedar River?
Where did a Swedish language magazine found inside the wall of a house in Minnesota originate?
Why did Daniels Opera House in Marion stop presenting artists and other notable individuals?
How did a Civil War-era cannon go missing for a significant number of years before being returned to the city of Cedar Rapids?
The answers, in order:
Mason was a talented athlete from Cedar Rapids who was named to an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League team but ultimately turned down the offer to play.
The printing blocks were related to early efforts to build a “seawall” and protect the areas around the river from flooding.
Qvinnan Och Hemmet was first published in Cedar Rapids im 1893.
A disastrous fire in 1903 may have put an end to performances at the Marion opera house.
As for the cannon, well, that’s a long story.
We are pretty pleased with our track record -- and quite grateful to all the folks who have helped us discover the answers to these questions. But recently, we were presented with a mystery we have been having trouble unraveling.
Quaker tin mystery
At the center of that mystery? A small can of Quaker Oats.
Sandra Hudson of Iowa City wrote to us with an inquiry:
“During World War II, the Quaker Oats Company in Cedar Rapids produced small, 5-inch-high tins of compressed rolled oats with instructions on the can in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Dutch and Chinese. I have an unopened can that has been used as a bookend for more than seven decades.
“It is my understanding that those tins were manufactured on a government contract, for export only. However, I have not been able to find primary data concerning this matter. Hope you can find out the source and duration of the contract, the quantity produced, the distribution system, letters from countries receiving the product, media coverage, etc.”
At first glance, this seemed like something we should be able to get to the bottom of. We sent an inquiry to Tara Templeman, The History Center’s curator, asking what information might be available among the organization’s artifacts and library resources. Tara, generally a fount of information, did not have too much for us this time:
From what I can find, there was a reproduction in 1984 that was similar but incorporated more yellow in the label. The original tins are always listed as “1930s,” but no details are provided.
A jaunt over to eBay confirmed that these tins are generally listed as dating to the 1930s -- before World War II. It also revealed that -- empty and beat up to one degree or another -- the tins tend to be priced between $40 and $100.
Going to the source
Our next stop was the Quaker Oats website (quakeroats.com), which includes a timeline of the company’s history. That seemed promising.
But while we learned that the familiar round packaging of the company’s signature products first appeared in 1915 and that Quaker Quick Oats -- an early convenience product -- were introduced in 1922, the next entry on the timeline was the 1961 introduction of Life cereal.
Apparently, the company doesn’t think anything terribly interesting happened at Quaker Oats for nearly 40 years.
To date, an email we sent to the company seeking information about Ms. Hudson’s tin has gone unanswered.
Here are a few more views of the mysterious can:
Our hope? That one or more of the readers of this column can shed some light on things. After all, Quaker Oats is an essential part of Linn County’s history.
This particular tin is a small part of the company’s long history, to be sure, but we would be delighted to be able to solve this mystery -- and then share the answer with all of you.
You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Cline is a Leadership & Character Scholar at Wake Forest University. Her dad, Rob Cline, is not a scholar of any kind. They write this monthly column for The History Center. Comments: HistoricalClines@gmail.com