by: Geoff Ficke

The Cincinnati Native Who Created the Pet Food Industry in the Mid-19th Century

Since the domestication of the dog some 10,000 years ago, man’s best friend enjoyed a very limited diet of table scraps, grains and scrounged bits and pieces scoured from fields and city streets until the mid-19th century. The idea of a commercial Dog Food product dedicated to the culinary and dietary needs of canines was inconceivable in a world where people toiled mightily just to nourish themselves. People kept dogs for much more than companionship. They worked for their keep just as hard as any feudal serf.

James Spratt was a lighting-rod salesman from Cincinnati. On a business trip to England in 1860 he witnessed a gaggle of street dogs wolfing down a pile of discarded biscuit hardtack that had been tossed to the dock from a British merchant ship. This inspired Mr. Spratt. He immediately went to work to create a product that would satisfy canine hunger and afford him a great business opportunity.

James Spratt’s brainchild, The Patented Meat Fibrine Dog Cake was launched in Holborn, London. The original product was a hard biscuit cake made from a concoction of beetroot, wheat, grains, molasses and meat. Spratt was always very secretive about what type of meat he used in his Meat Fibrine Cakes. Initially the dog biscuits were sold to English gentlemen for their prized hunting dogs. The Company that Spratt formed was the first Consumer Product Brand to Market using snob appeal and Product Positioning based on the pampering aspect of the pet food was a major factor in the Brands success.

Spratt’s Patented Limited Co. soon received a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria. A Patent was issued for the recipe and blending process that James Spratt perfected to manufacture the dog food biscuits. Sales boomed as aspirational dog owners wanted the best for their pets in an age when the industrial revolution was in full gear, prosperity was spreading and leisure was an exciting new lifestyle component for the middle class. James Spratt recognized these demographic changes and they whetted his Entrepreneurial instincts.

After taking his Company public, James Spratt opened an American subsidiary based in New York City. Distribution spread quickly across the United States. Spratt was one of the first great Consumer Product manufacturers who invested heavily in Marketing, Branding, Billboards, Packaging Graphics, Advertising and Sponsorships.

The Company bought the front cover of the first ever journal of the American Kennel Club and actively participated in dog shows. Spratt began to target health conscious dog owners and the concept of dog life cycles was his creation. This total immersion into Marketing Pet Foods lead the Company to expand rapidly to many other Pet Care Products such as Travel Boxes, Collars, Leashes, and Kennel accessories. Booklets were given to consumers detailing how to treat common dog maladies utilizing Spratt products, medicines and Shampoos. Food products for cattle, poultry and other livestock were added.

James Spratt died in 1880. The Company he founded, based on a simple dog biscuit, has endured. In 1950 it was bought by General Mills.

The genius of James Spratt was not simply the creation of the first commercial Pet food. It was his vision and belief that as industrialized countries prospered, people would buy a product for their dogs that they had never needed. Today there are 77 millions licensed dogs in the United States alone. There are big box stores devoted exclusively to Marketing and Sales of Pet Products. Every Supermarket, Drug Store and Mass Merchandise retailer has a dedicated Pet Food department.

This is the legacy of the great Entrepreneur James Spratt. He acted with creativity, purpose and determination to create a market where there was none before. His inspiration was piqued by watching street dogs devour hardtack on a Liverpool dock. This is a wonderful example for nascent Entrepreneurs to study.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.