Category Archives: pet food

Atlas Obscura Tackles the Origins of the Bone-Shaped Dog Biscuit

Atlas Obscura, one of my favorite websites, occasionally publishes articles on dogs.  In this piece, from 30 June, Michael Waters reveals the origins of bone-shaped dog biscuits.

In 1907, organic chemist Carlton Ellis came up with the recipe for what became the “Milk-Bone,” a dog biscuit that was designed to use waste milk from cows sent to slaughter. Waters reports that at first the biscuits were square, and Ellis’ own dog rejected them.  He tried the same recipe, this time shaped like a little bone, and the dog ate it with enthusiasm.  Ellis always wondered whether the shape made the difference, but in any event, the biscuit that became the Milk-Bone was born.  Ellis sold the patent to the National Biscuit Company, an important early commercial bakery.

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I’m quoted in the article, talking about the diet that most dogs still enjoyed (or not) when the Milk-Bone was invented.  On April 4, 2016, I wrote a post about a behind-the-scenes tour of the Milk-Bone factory from this May-June 1938 issue of the National Biscuit Company’s NBC Magazine, which seems to have been directed to store managers and owners.  This is the cover image.  By then, Milk-Bones were regarded largely as dog treats, although the company still suggested that dogs could live off them alone.

Thank you, Atlas Obscura!

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Filed under advice literature on pets, attitudes toward dogs, dog food, dogs, pet food, pet industry, pets

“Runt.” An Epic Poem about an Epic Piddling Dog from the Miller Dog Food Company

This masterpiece of doggerel (sorry, I couldn’t help myself….) is a promotional brochure for the products of the Miller Dog Food Company of Battle Creek, Michigan.  The company started out as the Battle Creek Dog Food Company, and I am not yet sure when it changed its name, but the typography and design suggest the 1920s to me.  Located in the same community where Kellogg’s cereals were produced and where Dr Kellogg had his famous sanitarium, the early ads I have found for Miller’s Dog Food promoted it as health food for dogs.  I’m having trouble imagining this as a pet shop giveaway, given its barroom tone. But I leave you to peruse it.  In fact, I suggest reciting it out loud!

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Pets Blog 22 March 2016_0015


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A trip to the Milk-Bone Factory, 1938

Corporate magazines can be useful sources for historians interested in business and American consumer society.  Of course, the obvious interest of public relations departments in presenting firms in the best light possible has to be taken into account.  Even so, they often contain information and pictures that can’t be found anywhere else.

Studying the history of companies that made pet food has lots of obstacles; the absence of business archives from the many small firms operating in the first half of the 20th century is a big one.  I was lucky to find this issue of the National Biscuit Company’s corporate magazine from 1938.  The cover story was about Milk-Bone dog biscuits   Taking readers “behind the scenes,” the article stresses the modern, clean, mechanized facility, providing “good, wholesome nourishment, made with such scrupulous care.”  I especially like the last photo and caption, introducing the group of women who handled requests for free samples of Milk Bone and a booklet on dog care, received through mail-in coupons published in magazine advertisements.  “These girls keep busy….”

Remember that this dog-biscuit factory was in successful operation during the Great Depression.  My research on the history of dog food has suggested that the 1930s were actually a break-through decade for the use of commercial dog food, especially among urban and suburban households.  My post on the Canine Catering Company and its sales giveaway, the Puppy Puddle, discusses another Depression-era dog food business, one focused on a very well-to-do clientele in the greater Philadelphia area.

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Pets Blog 1 July 15_0023Pets Blog 1 July 15_0024Pets Blog 1 July 15_0025

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The “Puppy Puddle” and the Canine Catering Company

On December 2, 1938,  Roy Goff & Company of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, received a copyright associated with the “Puppy Puddle,” a   9 1/2 by 13 inch paper advertising blotter presented for use as a house training aid.  “When an emergency occurs, place this “Puppy Puddle” on the wet spot. Press down lightly with the foot — the job is done.”  The text commented helpfully that “time is an element in the efficiency” of the blotter. When the mishap occurred on an absorbent surface such as a rug, the directions recommended that several of the blotters be kept in a “handy place” in “every room in which the puppy plays,” ready for use at a moment’s notice. The drawing of the puppy, who is sitting in his own puddle hollering as only puppies can, looks like a rough-coated fox terrier, a popular dog at the time.  (Remember Asta, the urbane canine star in the “Thin Man” films?)

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“Puppy Puddle” training blotter.  Roy Goff & Co., Ardmore, PA, copyrighted 1938.

The “housebreaking” directions also suggested that a used “Puppy Puddle” could be left on a tile floor as an attractant, the way that  “wee-wee pads” are used by some dog owners training puppies today.  This also recalls house training instructions that suggested using a newspaper already soaked with piddle to the same end.

The text on the Puppy Puddle didn’t only offer advice on house training, it also promoted Roy Goff’s “WHITE LABEL BEEF” as the foundation of an elaborate puppy diet prescribed by “a famous University Veterinary School.”  This reveals that the Puppy Puddle was actually an advertising giveaway.  It even had a blank space at the bottom right where a pet shop or veterinary clinic might stamp its name and address.

Looking for more information on  Roy Goff & Co. led me to an unexpected story.  LeRoy Goff, Jr., the president of Roy Goff & Co., was more than the inventor of a novelty for training puppies for life indoors. He founded the Canine Catering Company in his garage in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, in 1933. Goff, who was born in 1903 and graduated from Princeton University in 1926, is listed in the 1930 U.S. Census as a well-to-do young insurance broker, owner of a house valued at $85,000, married with a toddler daughter, and cared for by two live-in house servants. Did his insurance business collapse? I don’t know yet.  Yet, in the heart of the Depression, Goff built a successful business preparing and delivering high-quality fresh meals for dogs.  This was a time when the canned dog food business was expanding, but it was also the unregulated stepchild of the meat and livestock feed industries.  Many dog owners viewed canned food with rightful suspicion.

The November 1934 issue of Popular Mechanics, a magazine that was full of uplifting stories about successful home-based  businesses, featured Goff’s young enterprise in a one-page story titled  “Catering to Dogs Becomes a Real Business.”  It opened by noting that “dogs appreciate a fresh, neatly presented meal and their masters like to have them properly fed and healthy.  That is why a depression-time business, started by LeRoy Goff II, of Philadelphia, in his own garage with no capital, has grown so rapidly that it numbers 6,000 animal customers…and is now housed in a modern plant in Philadelphia with branches in eight cities.”

The article reported that Goff began by working up a diet for his own dogs with the help of a veterinarian.  By 1934, the company’s offerings included a”veterinary meal,” a “kennel meal,” and “a la carte special meals, vegetables and beverages.” Subscribers placed orders from “attractive menu cards,” and the food was delivered to households three times a week.  Local veterinary hospitals also used the service for convalescing animals, sending their cars to the Canine Catering Company daily.  One-pound meals cost 13 cents for raw food (presaging today’s interest in raw diets for dogs) and 14 cents for a cooked dinner.

By 1938, Roy Goff & Co. offered canned food, the White Label Beef promoted by the Puppy Puddle giveaway.  There is more to be learned about LeRoy Goff’s Canine Catering Company of America, Inc. –and apparently the National Archives branch in Philadelphia holds some records relating to inspection of the company’s processing activities. (Here’s a link to information on the records group in the form of a Facebook post on Canine Catering Co. ) I also know that the company was  actually not alone in offering home-delivered pet food at the time.  Advertisements and other giveaways survive from pet businesses that offered  delivery of fresh meat, including horse meat, from the 1930s through the 1950s, when self-service supermarkets developed large pet food aisles and the nature of the pet food industry moved toward increasing consolidation.  By the 1960s, Roy Goff & Co. was no longer packing dog food; instead, it became a distributor of pet food and products, providing “professional retail guidance to small independent retailers,” according to a short profile on the website

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Faced with an automatic pet feeder….1939

Kenl Mastr auto dog feeder

Publicity photograph for the Kenl-Mastr automatic pet feeder. Photographer unknown. Undated (1939).

As I went back into my files for another look after  I researched the Kum-Pet Dog and Cat Feeder, I discovered that I owned two publicity photographs associated with another early automatic feeder, the Kenl-Master.  I did a web search for the firm, expecting to find absolutely nothing on this object, when up popped a reference from the June 3, 1939, issue of The New Yorker (p. 64), which I have excerpted below:

“our native inventors have been as busy as little bees.  At Bloomingdale…there is Kenl-Mastr, a covered food plate for dogs which pops its lid at feeding time if you remember to set its alarm-clock timer ($5.59).”

This reference was in one of the New York City shopping surveys that the magazine still occasionally publishes.  Incredible!

Upon closer examination,the Kenl-Master feeder seems to be the “Time Controlled Feeding Device for Domestic Pets” illustrated in a 1939 patent drawing in my previous post on the Kum-Pet Dog and Cat Feeder of 1947.  (Kenl-Mastr and Kum-Pet. Is anyone out there collecting gadget names?  Someone needs to work on this!)

Kenl Master feeder 2Notice the alarm clock in the second photo is set for a few minutes past six o’clock. The people who set up the shot are suggesting that six is the normal dinnertime for city dogs.   Now go back and look at the first picture.  The clock is set for ten minutes after five o’clock, and the handsome wire-haired fox terrier is shown already waiting at the feeder.  This is apparently intended to suggest that dogs in the 1930s tried to push dinner time up a bit, just as every dog I have ever owned has tried to do.

The feeder does not turn up in any of the trade catalogs or magazines in my collection.  The Kenl-Master Manufacturing Company is listed in a 1939 Los Angeles phone directory I found online — but here the trail ends for the time being.



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The Kum-Pet Dog and Cat Feeder, 1947

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Kum-Pet Dog and Cat Feeder. Brooklyn, New York. Lorraine Metal Specialties Company, a division of Lorraine Lighting Products Co, late 1940s.

The Kum-Pet Dog and Cat Feeder is one of several automatic pet feeders in my collection.  Its mechanism is simple.  A wind-up alarm clock, mounted flush into a galvanized metal frame, is set with the time for the pet’s meal.  When mealtime is reached, the tension unwinding spring that operates the clock’s alarm also spins a metal spool that winds up a string.  The string is attached to the underside of the metal feeding dish under the cover, kept in place by a cut-out in the metal base.  The pan of food slides into view and — voilá! — dinner is served.

Like the V.I.P. Pet Brush, the subject of my very first blog post, the Kum-Pet Dog and Cat Feeder is a gadget from the “Populuxe” era, when peace and increasing prosperity led Americans to some giddy purchasing decisions.  In the decades after World War II, people with extra money to spend began to direct some of this cash toward all sorts of  powered kitchen gizmos including ice crushers and blenders, electric carving knives, meat grinders and mixers.  Some gadgets were supposed to help housewives save money by taking on tasks as home, while others were intended to make routine tasks easier.  Others, such as automatic pet feeders, responded to consumer interest in convenience, suggesting that even the most ordinary tasks could be enhanced by novel applications of simple technologies.

As part of the family, pets became proxy consumers in postwar America.  The expanding array of products intended to nourish, heal, house, entertain and ornament them suggests how ordinary people understood and accommodated the needs of their charges.  In this case, automatic feeders were promoted as improving the lives of both pets and their people.  Timed feeders allowed the designated caregiver to be away from home when it was dinnertime for Trixie or Pal, who could still expect grub to arrive at the usual time.

The Kum-Pet feeder received its patent as a “Feeding Device for Animals” on 25 February 1947.  This seems to be the only patent issued to Jerome Frankel, who I have been unable to track so far. Several men with this name lived in and around New York City at the time the Kum-Pet Feeder was offered  for sale.  The patent’s text suggests that the invention responded to problems with some existing feeders:”One of the objects of the invention is to provide an automatic feeder of simple construction having few parts which can be cheaply produced and assembled….of neat and attractive appearance, and which will be fool-proof and positive in operation…sanitary and easily cleaned.”  The food pan in the Kum-Pet is an 8-inch metal baking pan, and the alarm clock is a Gilbert.  The William L. Gilbert Clock Corporation had been in business since 1828 and was known for its alarm clocks at the time the feeder was made by Lorraine Metal Specialties Company of Brooklyn, new York.

Farmers had been interested in automatic feeders for livestock for several decades when the Kum-Pet was patented.  However, the first patented feeder that I have been able to find relating specifically for pets is a “Time Controlled Feeding Device for Domestic Pets (US 2157682), patented by Raymond V. Sweeny in 1939.  Notice that this one also makes use of an alarm clock!  At least five applications for automatic pet feeders appeared between 1946 and 1966. The timing of automatic pet feeders is congruent with wide consumer acceptance of packaged pet food, another convenience for busy households.


R. V. Sweeney, “Time Controlled Feeding Device for Domestic Pets,” U.S. Patent 2,157,682. Patented 1939.




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