Spratt's was the world's first large-scale manufacturer of dog biscuits. Its "Meat Fibrine Dog Cake" was the brainchild of American entrepreneur James Spratt who launched the biscuit in London circa 1860. The company began operations in the United States of America in the 1870s and, after Spratt's death in 1880, the company went public and became known as Spratt's Patent, Limited, and Spratt's Patent (America) Limited. Spratt's pioneered the concept of animal life stages with appropriate foods for each stage. The company successfully promoted their array of products for dogs and other domestic animals through the astute use of snob appeal. The company was the first to erect a billboard in London.
James Spratt (?–1880) was an electrician and lightning rod salesman from Cincinnati, Ohio who became the first to manufacture dog biscuits and other products for canines on a worldwide scale circa 1860. The creation of Spratt's brainchild – the "Patented Meat Fibrine Dog Cake" – was inspired after his observation of street dogs devouring ship hardtack on the docks of Liverpool, England. His company was established in Holborn, London and his first dog cake, a concoction of blended wheat meals, vegetables, beetroot and meat, was prepared and baked on the premises of Walker, Harrison and Garthwaite, a firm which then claimed to have baked the first dog biscuit. Spratt was not only the first to manufacture pet foods but the first to farm out his production. His "Dog Cakes" were initially sold to English country gentlemen for their sporting dogs.
In conjunction with Spratt's operation, the first colored display billboard was erected on a retail store in London depicting a Native American buffalo hunt, the alleged meat source of Spratt's "Meat Fibrine". Spratt was always secretive about the meat source for his product, and, after selling the company, retained the contract for supplying the meat probably until his death in 1880. In 1885, Spratt's Patent, Limited, an English public company, was registered and continued the manufacture of dog food. Spratt's was one of the most heavily marketed brands in the early 20th century, with product recognition developed through logo display, lifestyle advertising, and support through devices such as cigarette cards.
The former factory is located in Poplar, east London and is a well-preserved site with about 150 live-work units called the Spratt's Complex. Much of the original markings are visible on the buildings, with names painted on the DLR track-side walls, and on the small chimney visible from Morris Road.
Young clerk Charles Cruft was one of Spratt's first employees and was vitally instrumental in developing the company. As Spratt's products gained widespread favor among consumers, competitors sent their imitations to market and Spratt realized he needed a show card and a trademark. He bought up an entire issue of engravings by Edwin Landseer, the renowned dog portraitist, depicting a pointer in a turnip field to use on his cards. His trademark became the 'X' that the young Cruft used to differentiate between trade and private customers in the company's ledgers. Dog cakes were then stamped 'SPRATTS X PATENT' during the manufacturing process. Cruft eventually left the company (though maintaining cordial relations) and founded the Cruft's Dog Shows.
Spratt published informational booklets telling his customers how his product was manufactured. Grains and other ingredients were brought to his London factory in ships and barges from Limehouse Basin on the Thames and hoisted to the fifth floor of his factory for storage. When the various ingredients had been blended, they were conveyed to a dough drum where the mass was mechanically kneaded, eight and a half hundredweight at a time. The dough was then drawn onto a machine, rolled out to the required thickness, and carried forward to cutting machines which stamped out biscuits at a rate of 50,000 an hour. The biscuits entered an enormous oven and emerged as "row upon row of brown, healthy fellows, each and every one of them done to a turn." The biscuits were sent to drying bins for 48 hours and then packaged. Meticulous records were kept of the actual number of biscuits produced. Spratt's supplied army dogs with 1,256,976,708 dog biscuits during World War I.
The company expanded to include items for dogs such as portable kennels (described as 'palatial' or 'like a drawing room cot'), traveling boxes, chains, collars, dog clothing, kennel accessories, and kennel appliances. Booklets were published giving advice on treating minor canine ailments in conjunction with the company's line of cures for jaundice, purging pills for the bowels, liniments, soaps, stimulants for the growth of hair, and "Fomo" antiseptic shampoo for dogs. Foods were manufactured for poultry, game, and other livestock.
Spratt's American operations coincided with the country's burgeoning love affair with dogs in the 1870s. Spratt’s Patent (America) Ltd. launched operations at 239-245 E. 56th St., New York City, but moved, in 1895, to Newark, NJ. In 1881, the company received an American patent for its "Meat Fibrine Dog Cake" and the product was sold coast to coast.
Spratt's became a relentless advertiser, convincing Americans who usually fed their dogs table scraps to buy a product they didn't need. The company employed snob appeal to hook the public, targeting participants and spectators at dog shows, and, in 1876, focusing on the centennial exhibition with free food for exhibitors. The company bought the entire front cover of the first journal of the American Kennel Club in January 1889 to broadcast its involvement with American and European kennel clubs, and to trumpet the company's "Special Appointment" to Queen Victoria. In the 1890s, Spratt's products retailed at approximately $7.00–$8.00 per hundredweight and even more for smaller portions—a considerable expense at a time when $1,000–$2,000 was the average annual income for a middle class American family. The company also targeted health-conscious dog owners and pioneered the concept of animal life stages with appropriate foods for the various stages. In the 1950s, General Mills acquired Spratt's US business.
- Schaffer, Michael (2009). One Nation Under Dog. Macmillan. p. 205.
- Grier, Katherine C. (2004). Pets in America. UNC Press. pp. 281ff.
- "The History of the Pet Food Industry". Washington, DC: Pet Food Institute. Retrieved 2009-05-09.
- Cunliffe, Juliette (2004) . The Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. Bath, UK: Parragon Publishing. p. 90–91, 158. ISBN 978-0752565668.
- Wortinger, Ann (2007). Nutrition for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 77.