James L. Kraft

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James L. Kraft
James Lewis Kraft

(1874-12-11)December 11, 1874
DiedFebruary 16, 1953(1953-02-16) (aged 78)
Resting placeMemorial Park Cemetery, Skokie, Illinois, US
Known forKraft Foods Inc
SpousePauline Kraft

James Lewis Kraft (December 11, 1874 – February 16, 1953) was a Canadian-American entrepreneur and inventor and the founder of Kraft Foods Inc. Kraft immigrated to the United States from Canada in 1902. He developed a patented pasteurization process for cheese, allowing it to be shipped long distances, making him the first to patent processed cheese.

Life and career[edit]

J. L. Kraft[1] was born on December 11, 1874, near Stevensville, Ontario, Canada, located just north of Fort Erie, to Mennonite[2] parents Minerva Alice née Tripp (1848–1933) and George Franklin Krafft (1842–1914), a farmer[3] of German descent. He was the second of eleven children. Kraft was educated in the Stevensville area (S.S. No. 9) and worked nearby at Ferguson's General store in Fort Erie[4] from 1901 to 1902.[5]

According to Ruth Kraft Anderson, daughter of Kraft's brother Will, the name was indeed originally spelled with two fs, but Kraft decided to remove one f when he began the company.[6]

Kraft immigrated to Buffalo, New York, in 1902, taking a position as secretary and treasurer of the Shefford Cheese Company. He became a partner in the company the following year, but his partners abruptly dissolved the agreement while he was on a business trip to Chicago—either to inspect the local branch of the company[7] or to supervise it.[8] Stranded in the big city, Kraft used his remaining $65 in capital to rent a horse and wagon and established his own business of buying cheese wholesale and selling it to local grocers.[9] A year later, he would write to a friend: "I haven't got a comparatively large business now, but I know what I can do and in less than five years I am honest in saying I expect to have one of the best wholesale cheese businesses in this City."[4] His business faltering, company tradition has it that Kraft decided to "make God a partner" in his business in 1907; as business improved in the next few years, he brought his brothers Charles Herbert, Frederick, Norman and John Henry into the business.[4]

By 1914, J.L. Kraft & Bros. Company, which later became Kraft Foods Inc. opened its first cheese manufacturing plant in Stockton, Illinois.[10] Kraft developed a process, patented in 1916, for pasteurizing cheese so that it would resist spoiling and could be shipped long distances. The company grew quickly, expanding into Canada in 1919.[4] Kraft saw a large increase in business during World War I when the United States government provided cheese in tins to their armed forces.

J. L. Kraft served as the company's president from 1909 until his death in 1953. Over the years, Kraft introduced many innovative products and used progressive marketing techniques to make his company one of North America's leading food producers. The company introduced Miracle Whip in 1933 at the Century of Progress World's Fair.[11]

Kraft was an amateur jewelry maker and would find unpolished jade on the road, which he would shape, polish, and set into rings. The rings were then given as awards to outstanding employees, and they often became family heirlooms.[12] Kraft even wrote a book on jewelry called Adventure in Jade and owned jade mines in Alaska and California.[13] He was "deeply involved" in the North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago[12] and was also a "strong proponent of religious education for young people".[14]

In the mid-1920s, Kraft began a venture to create a fashionable golf and tennis resort community in Lake Wales, Florida, along with Carl and Bertha Hinshaw. The Florida land bust and the stock market crash in October 1929 spelled the end of the Kraft connection. The Chalet Suzanne opened in 1931, the worst year of the Great Depression,[citation needed] and has been run by successive generations of the Hinshaw family ever since. Even though Kraft bowed out of the development, a 1920s-era Spanish Revival house on the property continues to be called the Kraft House.


In 1926, Kraft Foods opened a manufacturing plant in Antigo, Wisconsin.[15][16] Back then, there was a train route running from the north woods to Chicago which facilitated both industrial shipping and personal transport for the area. It reminded Kraft so much of his childhood home – the trees, the lakes, the wildlife – that he decided to purchase some land. This decision would lead to building a sprawling estate, and spending his summers there with his wife Pauline, his family and friends. Kraftwood was built along the edge of the Lake Mashkinosiew, just 20 miles north of downtown Antigo.

Kraft was a close friend of the president and founder of the Orange Crush company, C. J. Howel.[17] Howel, his wife and daughter Annie Jo spent every Summer at Kraftwood from 1927 to at least 1934.

Personal life[edit]

Kraft's grave at Memorial Park Cemetery

J. L. Kraft and his wife Pauline had one daughter, Edith (c. 1916–2012). The Krafts' home, built in 1930 by architect Abraham Epstein, stands at 17 Canterbury Court in Wilmette, Illinois. Kraft has living family members in Illinois and in Fort Erie, Ontario.[5]

A few of Kraft's brothers including, Charles Herbert, Frederick, Norman and John Henry, were executives in Kraft Foods.[9]

The Kraft family farm (located at Bowen Road at Winger Road) in Stevensville, Ontario, still exists as the area has remained agricultural.

Kraft died on February 16, 1953, at the Wesley Memorial Hospital in Chicago.[18] He is interred in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois.


Kraft was born in the house at 3347 Bowen Road in Fort Erie. Known as the Kraft House, it was built on land farmed by Francis Kraft, who sold the land to Kraft's father, George Krafft.[19][20]

There are a few places in Fort Erie that bear the Kraft name, but none are located near Stevensville, where Kraft lived:

  • Kraft—unincorporated area in the southwest end of Fort Erie along the shores of Lake Erie
  • Kraft Drain—a short drainage canal located within Kraft and flows out to Lake Erie east of Crescent Creek Beach
  • Kraft Lane and Kraft Road—two roads located within Kraft with former a driveway for homes at the foot of Kraft Road along Lake Erie, the latter being a local road


  1. ^ "James Louis Hoafft discovered in Ontario, Canada Births, 1832-1914". Ancestry.com.
  2. ^ "James L. Kraft".
  3. ^ Ingham, John N. (1983). Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders. Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313213625.
  4. ^ a b c d "J.L. KRAFT 1874-1953 — Featured Plaque of the Month, December 2003" (PDF). Ontario Heritage Trust. December 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 30, 2005. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Ferguson, Sarah (March 30, 2015). "Famous cheese maker has Stevensville roots". Fort Erie Times/Niagara This Week. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  6. ^ "An empire began in Stockton 100 years ago". Journal-Standard. June 14, 2014. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  7. ^ McLeod, Susanna (July 2, 2013). "Kraft, King of Cheese". The Kingston Whig-Standard. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  8. ^ Kraft, James Lewis. "JESUS IS MY ROLE MODEL!". Full Gospel Businessmen's Training. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  9. ^ a b "James L. Kraft (1874-1953)". Kraft Foods Group. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  10. ^ Kraft Foods website
  11. ^ Smith, Andrew F., ed. (2007). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. p. 370. ISBN 9780195307962.
  12. ^ a b Kass, John (January 31, 2003). "Kraft a jewel to those jaded by big business". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  13. ^ Gustason, Harriet (April 14, 2012). "Looking Back: Oh, it was a great place to work". Journal-Standard. Retrieved August 22, 2023.
  14. ^ "J.L. Kraft 1874-1953". Read the Plaque. Retrieved August 24, 2023.
  15. ^ "Kraftwood | Historical Information & Photos". Kraftwood. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  16. ^ "Search the Wisconsin Historical Society's collections". Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  17. ^ "Orange Crush--a Soda Pop Developed in Los Angeles". www.metnews.com. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  18. ^ "Obituary: James Lewis Kraft". Newspapers.com. Chicago Tribune. February 19, 1953. p. 20. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
  19. ^ "HistoricPlaces.ca - HistoricPlaces.ca".
  20. ^ "Re: Notice of Intention to Designation under the Ontario Heritage Act - 2247 Bowen Road, Town of Fort Erie" (PDF). heritagetrust.on.ca. Ontario Heritage Trust. April 1, 2003. Retrieved August 22, 2023.

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