James Lewis Kraft (1874-1953)
James Lewis Kraft was born on a dairy farm near Stevensville, Ontario, Canada on 11 December 1874. He was the second of eleven children. His parents were Mennonites, carrying on the tradition of his GGGGG-father, Jacob Boehm (ca. 1693-1781). James was educated locally and worked nearby at Ferguson’s general store in Fort Erie starting at the age of eighteen.
James Kraft moved to Buffalo, where he invested in a cheese company. Later, he moved to Chicago, IL to manage a branch of the company and while there, his partners eased him out of the business. Stranded in Chicago with only $65. in capital, he obtained a horse and wagon and he purchased cheese wholesale each day and then resold the cheese to local merchants. The new venture was successful and by 1909, several of his brothers had joined the company as permanent employees (Charles H., John H., Fred, and Norman). In that year, the business was incorporated under the name of J.L. Kraft & Bros. Co., with James L. Kraft as the president.
Kraft developed a revolutionary process, patented in 1916, for pasteurizing cheese so that it would resist spoilage and could be shipped long distances. The company grew quickly, expanding into Canada in 1919. Over the years, Kraft introduced many innovative products and used progressive marketing techniques to make his company one of North America’s leading food producers.
James Kraft was also noted for his philanthropic contributions. He helped create one of the first major television programs, the “Kraft Television Theater,” which ran from 1947 until 1958. He also supported the Baptist Church and was a strong proponent of religious education for young people. He gave a large portion of his wealth to religious organizations over the years and he was once quoted as saying, “The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently increasing dividends is the money I have given to the Lord.”
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