Stuart, Elbridge A. (1856-1944)

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 10/11/1999
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 1733
Elbridge A. Stuart created the firm that became the Carnation [evaporated milk] Company in 1899 in Kent, Washington. Carnation became one of the world's largest milk-product companies. In 1910, Stuart bought a farm in Tolt, Washington, (the Snoqualmie Valley town was renamed Carnation in 1917) and developed it into Carnation's huge model dairy farm. The firm began producing evaporated milk, which kept on the shelf for months, at a time when the average household used an icebox for refrigeration. Stuart innovated new production and storage methods and marketed creatively with the slogan, "Milk from contented cows."

Filling a Vacuum

Stuart, born in 1856, was already a successful grocer when he came to the Northwest in 1899 looking for a good investment. He found one in the bankrupt Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company located in Kent. Stuart initially struggled with manufacturing methods and had difficulty finding retail outlets for his product. He altered the process from sweetened condensed milk to unsweetened evaporated milk, using a new system involving a partial vacuum which evaporated water from the milk at a lower temperature. Over time Stuart's evaporated milk found customers. (Electric refrigerators were not introduced into households until the 1920s.) Stuart eventually shifted to wholesale operations only.

Carnation's Contented Cows

In 1906, Stuart began using the advertising slogan, "milk from contented cows." Seeking a more marketable company name, Stuart settled on Carnation when he saw a carnation on the lid of a box of cigars.

In 1910, Stuart purchased a 36-acre farm near the town of Tolt in the Snoqualmie Valley for $11,000. He added to the holding until he had 1,600 acres. He developed a world-famous dairy farm where a herd of 600 registered Holstein cattle grazed. Numerous records for milk and butter production were set.

A Long Reach

In 1917, Tolt was renamed Carnation in honor of the research firm. By 1919, the company's 20th anniversary, more than 150,000 cows were producing milk for Carnation's 20 plants across the United States. Overseas affiliates were established in France, Germany, and Holland. In 1926, Carnation entered the fresh milk and ice cream business. Three years later, the firm bought the Albers Brothers' Milling Co., which averaged $17 million a year in sales of flapjack flour, cornmeal, oatmeal, and feed for animals.

Marketing played an important role in the firm's success: Besides the famous slogan, the firm's "Contented Hour" radio program aired across the country.

Stuart vacated the president's seat in 1932, but continued his involvement with Carnation well into his 80s. He died in 1944.

The firm is now owned by Nestle Corp.


Sources: "A Century of Business," Puget Sound Business Journal, September 17, 1999; Junior Achievement of Greater Puget Sound Hall of Fame Series.

Related Topics:   Agriculture | Biographies | Business

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