A Brief History of the Pet Food Industry Part Two, The Introduction of Canned pet food Ken-L-Ration.

Hey, fellow pet lovers!! 

Today’s post is the second part of A Brief History of the Pet Food Industry and if haven’t checked out part one then head over there before reading today’s post. For our WordPress followers that have been wondering why I didn’t post on Saturday, I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather the last week which, unfortunately, meant I had to miss last Saturday’s post.

Let’s jump straight into today’s post and learn all about the introduction of canned pet food in the early 1920s. 


The Introduction of Canned Pet Food

If you’ve read part one of today’s post then you will already know that the pet food industry was started by an American man called James Spratt. Spratt’s love for dogs and his entrepreneurial mindset saw him create a highly successful company that was the starting full for the multi-billion dollar pet food industry which we all know so well today.

However, in today’s post, we are going to talk about the introduction of canned pet food and in part three I’ll be going in-depth about how kibble came to be. Both food options are widely consumed by our pets today and there are countless options/brands available for pet owners to choose to from. Just like part one, I found writing part two to be extremely interesting and I hope you all enjoy today’s post.

Before talking about the introduction of canned pet food I quickly want to talk about another company called the F. H. Bennet Biscuit company who are responsible for creating the popular Milk-Bone dog biscuits which most pet owners would have come across in their lifetime.

F. H. Bennet Biscuit Company

I wanted to quickly talk about the F. H. Bennet Biscuit company before moving onto canned pet food because their famous dog biscuit the Milk-Bone has survived throughout generations. The company operated a Bakery in new york and this is where they invented the Milk-Bone biscuit.

It was in 1908 that the company which was then known as Maltoid first made the Milk-Bone dog Biscuit from minerals, meat products and milk. Hence the name of the product, due to the hight composition of cows milk within. In 1931 the company was bought by the National Biscuit Company which is now known as Nabisco and the only product they kept after the acquiring the bakery was the famous Milk-Bone Biscuit.

Over the years the company added various flavours such as chicken and beef to go alongside their original Milk-Bones. The marketing-focused soon shifted from the Milk-Bone being a normal everyday treat to something that could help keep your canine companion’s teeth clean and healthy and decrease plaque build up.

The biscuits were a huge success and became a common item in pet owners homes over the decades. The brand has been sold to various different companies moving from the ownership of  Kraft Foods to Del Monte Foods and many more…

So how did canned pet food come about?

Canned pet food feels like it has been around for forever, but the truth is that it only first came onto the pet food scene in the early 1920s with the introduction of  Ken-L-Ration by the Chappel Brothers in 1922.

The Chappel Brothers

The Chappel Brothers were from Rockford Illinois which is where they first started manufacturing their canned dog food. They were the first ever manufacturer of canned pet food in the United States and their pet food, Ken-L-Ration was based on the idea that dogs, as well as humans, need to consume a well-balanced diet to remain healthy. Their first year of business went well despite some people struggling to adjust to the idea of their pets consuming horse meat.

This was due to horses being a vital part of society back then as they were used for many jobs such as transportation, farming and so on. However, as society saw the introduction of the automobile age, there was an abundance of local horses which meant the Chappel Brothers had a sufficient supply for their pet food production.

Since the first year of business went so well for the Chappel Brothers they decided to expand their product line with the introduction of their Ken-L-Ration biscuits, “Golden Flakes of Energy, The Kibble Biscuit Supreme”. Their newest product was marketed towards veterinarians, dog breeders and boarding kennels, and their product was such a hit that they created a new slogan called, “Food of Champions”.

Ken-L-Ration really took off when Rin Tin Tin became a brand ambassador for the company. Rin Tin Tin was a famous male German Shepherd who was an international star in various motion pictures of the time. Philip Chappel, one of the brothers heard that this famous canine and his trainer Lee Duncan where staying in a Chicago hotel and decided to pay them a visit with the hopes of getting Mr Duncan to give Rin Tin Tin their Ken-L-Ration dog food.

However, the story goes that Mr Duncan stated he wouldn’t consider giving his prized pooch any tinned dog food and this is when Mr Chappel opened a can and ate some himself to prove just how pure his pet food was. Thankfully, this was enough to persuade Mr Duncan and Rin Tin Tin was then featured in the Chappel Brothers advertisements for their Ken-L-Ration dog food.

If you would like to see one of their popular advertisements then follow this link after reading today’s post, Ken-L-Ration advert. This was a favourite amongst children nationwide due to the catchy song, “My dogs bigger than your dog, my dogs faster than yours. My dogs better cause he eats Ken- L-Ration, my dogs better than yours”.

With the company’s new publicity sales rocketed and one week in July it was declared “Ken-L-Ration Week” and apparently more than four-million dogs where being fed horse meat with pet owners purchasing Ken-L-Ration products from over 150,000 stores nationwide. The company became a leader in the pet food industry in both the USA and internationally, their Rockford plant was teeming with production and covered 23 acres, employed 600 men and was said to be making a profit of $500,000 a year.

However, the Chappel Brothers soon had an issue when their steady supply of horses ran out, which resulted in them having to raise their own. To do so they formed a new corporation called C.B.C in 1928 and they leased a crazy amount of land, a million and a half acres in which they would round-up wild horses and ship them to their plant in Rockford to be slaughtered and turned into Ken-L-Ration. Many ranchers were delighted about this as it meant more grazing land for their cattle but there was one man who really wasn’t happy about the treatment of the horses even before the Chappel Brothers created C.B.C and this was Frank Litts.

Apparently, the Chappel Brothers never provided their horses with water, food or medical care during transportation and some starving horses were said to have eaten the tails of other horses during transportation due to their hunger. Frank Litts did not agree with the treatment of these poor horses and really wasn’t keen on the idea of slaughtering them and turning them into pet food either, which made him despise the Chappel Brothers operations from the get-go.

This inspired him to attempt to destroy the Chappel Brothers factory and his first attempted was in October 1925, when he tried to destroy the pet food plant by arson. However, this was a failure and only resulted in a few carts of Ken-L-Ration being destroyed. He didn’t stop there though and persevered, three more times Frank Litts attempted to blow up the factory.  However, the Chapel Brothers weren’t prepared to lose their company and put up a ten-foot fence as well as hiring guards to protect the Rockford base.

In December 1925, Frank Litts would attempt to destroy the Chappel Brothers factory using 150 half-pound sticks of dynamite, unfortunately for him, he never managed to light the fuse and was shot several times by the armed guards. Amazingly this didn’t kill him and he was found 16 hours later in a field with multiple shot wounds and after recovering he was taken to the Illinois Asylum for insane criminals but managed to escape and made his way back to Rockford to finish what he started, however, he never did and was arrested before he could carry out his plan and spent the rest of his days in prison.

At the height of the company in the 1920s the Chappel brothers where the leaders of the pet food industry, their Rockford plan covered over 23 acres and from 1923 to 1933 they manufactured 57,889,564 cans of Ken-L-Ration. However, they did not solely produce dog food and focused on developing a variety of other pet food products for dogs, cats and birds such as

  • Ken-L-Meal

  • Kit-E-Ration

  • Bird-E-Ration

  • Pup-E-Ration

  • Macro-Meat

  • And lastly, Ken-L-Worth.

However, the company really started to struggle during the Great Depression in the 1930s. During these hard times, many beef butchers were forced to diversify into the pet food market and started manufacturing canned dog food made from beef, this worried the Chappel Brothers who thought they should compete by following their competition but this wasn’t the right move and resulted in continuous loss of sales which drove the company to bankruptcy. Philip M Chappel was forced to leave the company and moved to Argentina but died two years after leaving America. The company was then bought by Quaker Oats Company in 1942.

The Chappel Brothers Laboratory for Canine Nutrition

As well as being the first company to manufacture canned pet food in America, they were also the first pet food company to research canine nutrition and established their laboratory for canine nutrition at their home base in Rockford and the company released “The Generation Test as Applied to canned dog food”.  This report led to higher standards being placed on the manufacture of canned pet food products and was responsible for “The Chappel Standard of Biological Value for Canned Dog Foods”.

To learn more and see some interesting advertisement photos and production photos of the Chappel Brothers factory in Rockford simply follow the link to this super informative blog post that was a massively help when writing today’s post, all about the Chappel Brothers.

Chappel Brothers UK Operations

Some of our UK readers may be thinking did the Chappel Brothers bring their pet food over for UK pet owners? Well, in the 1930s they started commercial production of their canned pet food in the UK. With the Chappel Brothers knowledge in canine nutrition and food technology at the time advancing the industry pet food sales started to take off rapidly.

So how did kibble come about?

I was initially planning on adding how kibble came to be in today’s post but decided I’m going to do a whole other post on that which means part three will be all about the introduction of kibble. I’ll get this post out for next week, so stick around and subscribe to the blog to make sure you stay up to date.


Thanks for reading today’s post, I hope you all enjoyed it and if you did make sure to let me know by hitting that like button or giving it a share so other pet parents can learn all about epoch.pet and the diverse range of content we put out there.

I plan to finish this little series with two more posts, part three will be all about the introduction of kibble and part four will briefly summarize everything we have talked about so far and talk about the pet food industry we all know today, so stick around for more interesting posts heading your way soon.

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