In 1894, George Robinson, William H. Danforth, and William Andrews founded the Robinson-Danforth Commission Company in St. Louis. The company first began manufacturing feed products for horses and mules and later expanded into food products for human consumption. As Danforth moved into breakfast cereal production, he sought the endorsement of the Ralston Health Club, a pseudo-scientific organization that espoused eugenics by promoting healthy foods. In 1902, the company rebranded as Ralston Purina, with the latter coming from a slogan and a play on the word “purity.” These changes and exposure in the St. Louis World’s Fair positioned the company as a thriving processing and distribution center.
In 1926, Ralston Purina established a research farm in Gray Summit to create scientifically-formulated pet, poultry, and livestock feeds. While Ralston Purina primarily produced animal feed, the company moved towards dog and cat food manufacturing in the latter half of the twentieth century. Today, Ralston Purina is Nestlé Purina PetCare, an American subsidiary of Nestlé and one of the largest producers of pet food in the United States.
This 1946 photograph depicts the Purina Mill located at 835 S. 8th Street. The mill, along with office buildings and a manufacturing plant, comprised Checkerboard Square, the company’s headquarters since 1896. Ralston Purina’s famous checkerboard logo symbolizes Danforth’s “four-square” personal philosophy: stand tall, think tall, smile tall, live tall, and has been imprinted in the company’s buildings. In January 1962, a fire blazed through Checkerboard Square. Deemed one of the worst in St. Louis’ history, the fire destroyed the headquarters. In the aftermath, Ralston Purina relocated the mill and production facilities to Montgomery City and Vandalia, Illinois, but kept its corporate headquarters in Checkerboard Square.
Creator: Joseph Hampel
Subject: Ralston Purina Co.; Pet supplies industry
Contributing Institution: Missouri Historical Society
Accession Number: N23709
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County: St. Louis
Region: St. Louis Metro