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Symbol Since 1877 : Quaker Man's Identity Often Mistaken

October 14, 1987|JESUS SANCHEZ | Times Staff Writer

Who is that stately, white-haired gentleman dressed in black garb and hat who smiles from all those red and blue Quaker Oats boxes?

Many believe it's William Penn, an English Quaker leader who founded Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia.

Wrong, says Quaker Oats Co. "Occasionally, someone will make that mistake," said company spokesman Ron Bottrell. But, "there's no indication that he was based on a historical figure. He is simply known as the Quaker man."

A book on American symbols says company co-founders William Heston and Henry D. Seymour disagreed about who came up with the idea of using the so-called Quaker man to represent their new company. Heston, according to "Symbols of America" by Hal Morgan, said he came across a picture of Penn and decided that the statesman would be the perfect symbol for the firm.

But Seymour insisted that he came up with the idea after reading an article about Quakers in an encyclopedia. And that is the version the company sticks to. "He was trying to come up with an image to make the product appear wholesome and good," Bottrell said. Seymour also might have been trying to attract the large populations of Quakers in Ohio and Pennsylvania, he said.

Regardless of who the Quaker man is, his figure has been found on Quaker Oats boxes since 1877. Over the years, the gentleman has been redesigned. He gained a smile in 1945, and a streamlined, abstract version--the company's current corporate logo--was introduced in 1971.

According to "Symbols of America," the Quaker man became well-known after his image was plastered on billboards and giant wall signs. One even appeared in England on the White Cliffs of Dover. It was removed by an Act of Parliament.

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