The History of Douglas & Company

George Bruce Douglas, and his brother, Walter, came of age during a period of rapid industrial growth. Across the country, changes in technology created opportunity for new industries. In Cedar Rapids, the proximity to agricultural products allowed producers to purchase the supplies needed and the rapidly expanding network of railroads made the distribution of products easier.

George Bruce Douglas Walter Douglas

George and Walter had seen their father benefit from these changes. George Douglas Sr. had immigrated from Scotland to the United States and began a career working for the railroad builders in Iowa. After building railroads, George Sr. put them to use. He started a cereal company with Robert Stuart, producing oatmeal and other cereals. In 1891, this company merged to become The Quaker Oats Company.


Having seen their father found a successful company, George and Walter Douglas set out to start their own. The brothers partnered in 1894 to form Douglas & Company and began producing linseed oil. They operated the company until 1899, when they sold the business to the American Linseed company.

Not long after, the brothers were looking for their next venture. In 1903 they started the Douglas Starch Works. This enterprise produced cooking starch and oil, laundry starch, animal feed, soap stock, and industrial starches. The company grew rapidly and was the largest starch works company in the world by 1914. At that time, it employed 400 people and ground 10,000 bushels of corn per day.

Areal image of Douglas Starch Works after the explosion

Rationing during World War I increased the demand for corn products as an alternative to butter or lard. The U.S. Food Administration encouraged substituting corn for wheat products, increasing the company's revenue. Corn oil and cornstarch became essential cooking items for homemakers, bakers, and cooks who used them to make puddings, pie fillings, sauces, and baked goods. Millions of potential customers could see Douglas & Company products in Good Housekeeping, The Ladies' Home Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post.

Image from Douglas Company Cookbook

The business was tragically disrupted on May 22, 1919. A devastating explosion leveled portions of the starch works. A pillar of dust and flame shot one mile into the sky. Hundreds of windows shattered across Cedar Rapids and water mains ruptured. Parts of Douglas & Company buildings landed two miles from the site. Forty-four people lost their lives.

Image of wreckage following Douglas Starch Works explosion.

In the days and months following the explosion, the city and the company rebuilt. Remarkably, the company was purchased in 1920, and its operations were expanded. Through subsequent company changes, the industry started by the Douglas brothers continues to be an important part of the local economy today as Ingredion, Inc.