Who is credited with creating the first commercial dry dog food in the United States and in what year?
There’s really two ways to answer that question. First, Milk Bones, the item that almost everyone knows, was introduced in 1907 by F.H. Bennett introduced “Milk Bones”—as a complete meal and not as a treat.
If, however, you want to know about those enormous bags of dried kibble that dominate grocery shelves, that has to go Purina who introduced them in 1957.
Let’s take a look at the entire picture. Before the invention of commercial pet food, people fed their pets table scraps, leftovers, or meat scraps purchased especially for pets, and there was little control over nutrient content. Factory inspections were non-existent, so there was always the worry about toxins and parasites.
The dry, “dog cake, “ a bone-shaped biscuit made of wheat, vegetables, beetroot and beet blood was introduced in England in 1860 by an Ohio-based traveling salesman named James Spratt.
Spratt brought the dog cake to the United States in 1890 where it was known as “Spratt’s Patent Unlimited.” In 1907, F.H. Bennett introduced “Milk Bones”—but as a complete meal and not as a treat. The two dominated the market until the 1920’s when Ken-L-Ration introduced canned dog food.
Ken-L-Ration was known for a lot of things…like that jingle that many couldn’t get out of their heads, “My dog’s better than your dog…cuz he eats Ken-L-Ration.” There was also the Ken-L-Ration kennel at Disneyland and the Ken-L-Ration “Dog Hero of the World.”
From the 1920s to the 1940s, canned dog food dominated 91 percent of the pet food market. The Quaker Oats Company bought ken-L-Ration in 1940. By 1946, dry dog food became popular again, and “Spratt’s Patent Unlimited” became part of General Mills in the 1950s—and it was General Mills who created Purina.
Ken-L-Ration was sold once again in 1995—this time to Heinz– and has, today, faded entirely into obscurity, with only the occasional can or two being found on EBay. In 1957, Purina introduced those enormous bags of kibble to the market where they now dominate grocery shelves, usually being given even more space than baby food.