116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Long a fixture on the city’s skyline, the Quaker Oats sign once again glows bright red in night sky — now in all LED lights.
The previous sign atop the Quaker Oats plant north of downtown Cedar Rapids was damaged in the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho. A nearly identical replacement was installed June 1 and 2 by Nesper Sign Advertising of Cedar Rapids.
Hundreds of hours of labor over six months went in to the repair, said Phil Garland, president of Nesper Sign.
The new letters are LED lights, which are safer and more energy efficient than the neon previously used to create the red glow. Garland said the new version will use about one-sixth of the power the old sign required, and present fewer safety hazards.
“It’s not glass, so it’s safer as far as if it ever were to get broken in a storm — falling glass is obviously not a good thing,” he said. “It’s low-voltage versus high-voltage so it’s much safer, especially at a grain mill, for dangers of any kind of fire — electrically it’s much safer.”
The new sign also is more environmentally-friendly.
“Some of the neons contain mercury and things that are environmental hazards, and this does not contain any of that,” Garland said.
Nesper Sign Company also will replace a second sign at the plant, facing the Cedar River.
“The Quaker Oats facility and iconic sign have been a fixture within the Cedar Rapids cityscape for so many years, so it was important to us to keep the sign as close to the original as possible,” Jay Hardeman, Quaker Oats plant director, said in a statement.
Nesper Sign and PepsiCo, which owns Quaker Oats, declined to say how much the replacement cost.
The Quaker Oats facility, owned by PepsiCo since 2001 and with approximately 900 employees, manufactures Quaker-brand grocery products that include oatmeal, grits, cereals and snacks as well as other items such as syrup and pancake mix. The Cedar Rapids plant dates to 1873.
The original sign was first lit up above the factory in 1947, according an archived edition of The Gazette. It was the largest electric sign in Cedar Rapids at that time.
“The biggest cereal mill in the world should have at least an appropriate sign to let the world know what it is looking at,” then-Quaker Oats personnel manager G.K Davis told The Gazette in 1947.
The sign has been a symbol of resilience at the plant in the past. After floodwaters damaged the Quaker Oats site in June 2008, the sign was illuminated using temporary power generators.
“That sign has been a huge symbol of the progress and enthusiasm for us and our employees,” then-PepsiCo president Mark Schiller told The Gazette in 2008. “There was a huge round of applause in Chicago when we saw a picture of that lighted sign.”
Garland said he appreciated that PepsiCo chose to work with a local company to repair the sign and keep the same design.
“It’s nice that they kept it iconic, instead of changing it to a new logo,” he said. “They made a point to keep it historical.”
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