A. E. STALEY
BRAND NAME COOKING WITH A. E. STALEY
The official company website:
A. E. Staley Manufacturing Co.
The following is an excerpt from the book Ideas that
Became Big Business by Clinton Woods. Published by Founders,
Inc. Baltimore, MD, 1959, 414 pages.
Buy this book:
Became Big Business
The Staley Story
It started small, before the turn of the
century, when a traveling salesman for tobacco and baking
powder got engaged to an Ohio girl who wouldn't marry him
until he settled down. He bought a trademark for $200,
rented a Baltimore loft for $16 a month, got some barreled
starch, and went into business, filling the packages at
night, making the rounds of stores by day.
So began the A. E. Staley Manufacturing Company, corn and
soybean processor, one of America's major industries. The
traveling salesman was A. E. Staley, Sr., founder and chief
executive of the Company until his death in 1940.
A North Carolina farm boy who knew the privations of the
post Civil War era, he never learned to like farm chores,
yet in later life he became a key figure in giving the
nation a new farm crop, soybeans.
His first brush with business began when he saw a "boy
wanted" sign at the Julian, N.C., general store, and ended
with the owner advising him to go back to the farm. "You'll
never make a businessman." Yet he became a captain of
He went to work for Bloch Brothers Tobacco company at 17,
calling on country stores in the Carolinas, Virginia and
Tennessee, traveling by mule, by horse and by wagon. He was
a salesman first, last and always. He got better jobs,
divisional field manager for Price Brothers Extracts in the
East and Midwest, then a sales post with Royal Baking Powder
Company that took him over most of the country. Then the
lady's ultimatum to settle down.
Calling on grocers, he had noticed that boxes of starch were
a staple in every store. This gave him the idea to start
packaging and selling starch. He had only $1,500 capital to
back it, but a world of ambition and a keen knowledge of
At one time he had to pawn his watch to pay the boy he had
hired to do the packaging so he himself could concentrate on
selling, but things picked up and soon he had salesmen for
"Cream" corn starch calling on grocers throughout the East.
Business was so good that he began to have problems getting
starch supplies from manufacturers.
He decided to make his own starch. He incorporated a company
in 1906, bought a defunct corn processing plant at Decatur,
Illinois, and spent three years and everything he could
scrape together getting it into production. At one time even
the "Cream" trademark was assigned as security to a Chicago
The business took hold, and operations smoothed out. Wet
corn milling plants are not small by nature, and slowly
Staley's built up a complex of buildings and processing
equipment required to produce a tremendous varieties of
starches, glucose syrups, dextrins, oil, feed and other
products from corn.
The Company was only 10 years old, though, and still had a
long way to go in corn processing when Staley became
interested in soybeans.
Soybeans had been grown in the U.S. as early as 1804, and as
"coffee berries" in the South during the Civil War, when
they served as a coffee substitute imposed by the Union
blockade. A West Coast mill had crushed a few soybeans
imported from the Orient in 1910, and a North Carolina
cottonseed mill tried crushing a few homegrown soybeans in
But there was no domestic soybean crop or commercial
processing. Soybeans were only a forage crop in this
country. The U.S. had imported 41 million pounds of soybean
oil in 1911, and imports soared to 343 million pounds in
1918 with World War I. China's soybean exports exceeded U.S.
corn exports, every year.
For A. E. Staley, Sr., there was powerful logic in figures
like these. The U.S. was destined to have a large soybean
industry. All it needed was (1) a soybean crop, (2)
processing plants, and (3) markets for the resulting oil,
meal and refined soybean products.
Staley, who had first seen soybeans as a farm boy in North
Carolina, a few handfuls brought from China by a missionary,
now became a missionary for soybeans in the U.S. From 1916
on, Staley and the men around him talked soybeans to anyone
who would listen. By the spring of 1922, the Company was
able to announce construction of a soybean processing plant,
and contract with farmers to buy their crop.
Soybeans are an immensely important source of vegetable oil
used in cooking and baking, as salad oil, for packing
sardines and tuna fish and for making margarine. It also has
many important industrial uses in making paper coatings,
adhesives, sizing for cloth, linoleum backing, insect
sprays, synthetic paints and varnishes. Soybean meal from
which the oil has been extracted is ground into flour for
breads and pancakes or used as livestock feed. And livestock
feed is by far the greatest user of soybean meal.
Illinois farmers planted 135,000 acres of soybeans that
spring, more than four times as much as the year before, and
America's first commercial soybean processing plant was put
in operation at Staley's that fall.
Today soybeans are a billion-dollar U.S. farm crop essential
to the nation's industry, and Decatur is known as the
"Soybean Capital of the World." And also at Staley's during
these years when the soybean was becoming a part of the
nation's agricultural scene, the Company's corn refining
business continued to grow. After all, starch was the basis
for its founding and products from corn supplied the capital
to back the start of the soybean. Today Staley's is the
second largest corn refiner in the U.S. and continues as one
of the leading processors of soybeans.
Staley's corn refining operations have kept pace with
developments of science and research, adding literally
hundreds of products from and uses for this plentiful raw
There are more than 600 Staley products, made from corn and
soybeans, serving an almost unbelievable range of uses in
scores of industries, in foods, papers, textiles,
pharmaceuticals, ceramics, metals, building materials and
many other lines. Products for industry, home and farm--more
than 100 carloads roll out of the Decatur plant daily.
From a rented Baltimore loft in 1898, a run-down Decatur
starch plant on a 6-acre site with a half-dozen employees
and 15 acres for "future expansion" in 1909, the Company has
grown to employ over 3,300, occupy 142 buildings on some 400
acres in Decatur, plus plants near Cleveland and Chicago,
offices across the country. The Company's sales exceed $150
million a year.
And it all started small, with a traveling salesman who had
an idea packaged starch was a good, staple product, who saw
and realized a great future in corn and soybeans."