Religion Dispatch posted a review of a newly published book on the marketing-based origin of American evangelicalism. 

Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism
Timothy Gloege
University of North Carolina, April 27, 2015 

Christian fundamentalism was invented in an advertising campaign, according to a new book by historian Timothy Gloege. The all-American brand of “old-time religion” was developed by an early captain of consumer capitalism—who wanted to sell pure Christianity like he sold breakfast.

In his fascinating narrative of the origins of modern evangelicalism, Gloege traces its close relationship to modern marketing back to the founder of Quaker Oats, Henry Parsons Crowell.

If you asked people for a short list of the most important religious figures in the early 20th century, Henry Parsons Crowell probably wouldn’t be on it. Who was Crowell and why was he important?

“Henry Parsons Crowell was a purveyor of oatmeal. He is best known by business historians as the president and founder of Quaker Oats, one of the pioneers of the branding revolution. He used a combination of packaging, trademark and massive promotional campaigns and transformed oatmeal from a commodity into a trademarked product.”

Crowell took oatmeal that used to be sold out of large barrels in your general store, put it into a sealed package, slapped a picture of a Quaker on it and guaranteed it pure. Now it no longer mattered who you bought your oatmeal from, only what brand you chose.

A company’s reputation was once rooted in its owner, but the trademark created this virtual relationship with consumers that was pure fiction. The trust that is engendered by a Quaker has no relationship to the company itself. There are no Quakers involved in that. Crowell was a Presbyterian. He bought the trademark, a very small mill had the trademark and he said, “oh, this engenders trust, so I’m going to use this to sell my oatmeal.”

This was quite controversial at the time, though today that’s just how things are done. Quakers sell oatmeal and friendly animated lizards sell us car insurance.

One of the key arguments in the book is that he is using similar strategies in religion as well. As president of Moody Bible Institute, Crowell pioneered the techniques of creating trust in a pure religious product, packaging and trademarking, as it were, old-time religion.

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Replies to This Discussion

Bulk oatmeal sold from open barrels in early 1900s?

That was before the short progressive period that produced the pure food and drugs laws and all kinds of stuff was in those barrels. The period also produced truth in labelling (food and drink containers) laws and child labor laws.

I understand that fundamentalists supported laws that banned the teaching of evolution in public schools, which in Tennessee led to the 1925 Scopes trial.

I think scopes was found guilty at his trial, but won his appeal.

The judge blocked Darrow's attempt to put Tennessee's Butler Act on trial. Scopes was found guilty and fined a hundred dollars.

What I've read about the case said the appeals court set his conviction aside on technical grounds, he continued teaching for a while and then went to Illinois to study geology. I have no info further than that.

Quaker oats are called porridge in the UK. Porridge was also the name of one of the funniest TV serials ever on the BBC, the setting was a prison selected because of the daily diet fed to prisoners in Brittan. If a miscreant is sent to prison he's said to be doing porridge.

It also became part of cockney rhyming slang, Quaker oat = coat.

I hope that cat eats his porridge Patricia.

Give him some porridge it'll put hairs on his chest.




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