A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Is the guy on the Quaker Oats box John Penn?

In regards to SDSTAFF Veg's answer about the Quaker Oats guy. Isn't it John Penn that is pictured on all Quaker Oat products? I think so!

SDSTAFF Veg replies:

Sorry, Hawk, that isn't John Penn. At least that's what the company that owns the trademark says, and why would they lie?

According to the folks at Quaker Oats, the Quaker Man was registered as a trademark on September 4, 1877 — the first U.S. trademark registered for a breakfast cereal. "The name was chosen when Quaker Mill partner Henry Seymour found an encyclopedia article on Quakers and decided that the qualities described — integrity, honesty, purity — provided an appropriate identity for his company's oat product." Today you don't come across a lot of impure, dishonest oats, but consumers in the late nineteenth century couldn't take such things for granted. To emphasize the purity angle, the original Quaker Man carried a scroll with the word "pure" on it.

In 1901, the Quaker Oats company was formed when three cereal mills — including Seymour's Quaker Mill — combined. The new entity kept Seymour's trademark but has revised it over the years. In 1946, graphic designer Jim Nash introduced the familiar "smiling head" portrait. Between 1955 and 1958, Chicago artist and illustrator Haddon Sundblom used Nash's line drawing as the basis for a full color portrait of the Quaker Man. In 1970, Saul Bass created the distinctive one-color "shadow" image that you see on packages today — it was adopted as the Quaker Oats trademark in 1972.

If you search for pictures of John Penn on the Web, you'll find he looks nothing like the Quaker Man. However, I have to admit the resemblance to William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, is a little closer. Are there delicate legal issues involved in admitting the trademark is based on a real person? Would the state of Pennsylvania sue? I don't know. We'll just chalk it up to coincidence and move on.

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