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Chappel Brothers

Phillip M. Chappel as he appeared when he came to Rockford.

Chappel Brothers Incorporated, 80-89 Peoples Avenue. Phillip Chappel was a naturalized Englishman who was working as a traveling salesman for Swift & Company. His duties were to ride his bicycle to butcher shops in a 50 mile radius of Rochester. Later he bought a small farm near Batavia, New York, where he was raised horses; Chappel was in an ideal situation when he won a contract to furnish horses to the government when the United States entered World War One. The US Government also supplied thousands of horses to England and France to use in their armies. Although motor vehicles were slowly entering the scene the nation was still heavily dependent on horse power for farming and other transportation and hauling purposes.  Civilians were reluctant to part with their sound animals and horses on the farm or in the city were at a premium. Despite this opposition, Chappel sent more than 117,000 American animals off to war by securing them from livery stables, farms, villages and police stations to name a few. When the conflict ended the demand dropped for horses by civilians and the government as tractors and motor trucks replaced horses. Chappel was left with horses but no market to sell them. He and his brother Ernest sold pickled horse meat for a while shipping it to overseas countries that had dined on horse meat for centuries and this was a very successful venture. However Chappel wanted a larger market for his horse meat and decided to experiment with a canned dog food. Because of his earlier connections in the meat business he soon learned of a perfect location for his new venture.

Chappel Brothers was established in Rockford in 1923 when they assumed ownership of the large vacant twenty five year old packing plant of the Schmauss Brothers Company that supplied their local meat markets. It was also home to short lived farmer’s co-operative but that concern failed. The Rockford area also had railroad lines and due to the dawning of the automobile age there was an extensive supply of local horses, everything Chappel needed for his horse slaughter - dog food canning operations. They took over the packing plant and registered the trademark Ken-L-Ration, the label carried the now-famous picture of dogs playing poker and also held the honor of being the first canned dog food in the United States and would soon gain worldwide fame. Ken L Ration was based on the idea that dogs as well as humans needed a well-balanced diet to remain healthy. Although Phillip Chappel had previously developed a profitable sale of canned horse meat in Europe where the middle classes bought all he could produce, in Chicago the public reception was the opposite with an outcry against the use of horse meat for dog food. The Chappel's had trouble getting Congress to authorize transportation of this “dog food” from state to state due to the intense sentiment against use of horses. The Chappels proved that dogs ate horse meat greedily.

Chappel Brothers first year in business proved so successful that they expanded their pet food offerings by adding Ken-L Biscuits, "Golden Flakes of Energy - The Kibbled Biscuit Supreme", a dry dog food that was first marketed to veterinarians, boarding kennels and dog breeders. From that small base they would take the product nationwide. Ken-L Biscuits gained a good reputation with professionals and dog owners alike. This resulted in a new slogan, "Food of Champions".  Chappel Brothers Company had dog kennels in the building with many different breeds so they could gauge just how dogs would respond to new or improved products and were easily able to track the animal’s health.

When Phillip Chappel learned that dog trainer Lee Duncan and the original Rin Tin Tin were staying at a Chicago hotel he paid them a visit to convince them that Rin Tin Tin would enjoy Ken-L-Ration. Duncan said there is no way he is giving his prized animal any canned dog food, so Phillip Chappel opened a can and ate some himself to prove how "pure it is". Rin Tin Tin was thereafter featured in Chappel’s advertisements for Ken-L-Ration and Ken-L-Ration was endorsed every Thursday night on NBC’s Rin Tin Tin’s Thriller radio program. One of the advertisements for Ken-L-Ration was a jingle that became the favorite of children across the nation - “My dog's bigger than your dog, my dogs faster than yours. My dogs better ‘cause he eats Ken-L-Ration, my dog's better than yours”. The alliance of pet food and advertising got its start when Philip Chappel incorporated the famous canine radio and cinema star, Rin Tin Tin, into his efforts to sell Ken-L-Ration to American dog owners. One week in July was declared “Ken-L-Ration Week” and more than four million dogs were being fed horse meat via 150,000 stores across the nation. Chappel’s network expanded rapidly into a wide-open market and Ken-L-Ration became an international power in the dog food business. The Rockford plant covered 23 acres, employed 600 men, was posting a profit of $500,000 a year and had soon drained the Midwest of every available horse.

Inspectors operating under the provisions of the Pure Food Law give every piece of meat that goes into Ken-L-Ration the same inspection as meat intended for human consumption.

The Butcher Shop at Chappel Brothers in the 1920's.

The Chappel Brothers Company was also the first company to actually research dog’s nutritional needs. In the early 1930's the company had established the Chappel Laboratory for Canine Nutritional Research at its home base in Rockford. In 1935 the Chappel Company released "The Generation Test as Applied to Canned Dog Food". In the report it was stated that with only a limited amount of regulation in its manufacture, a large number of canned dog foods are now being manufactured with no consideration as to the food requirements of the dog. This report outlines some of the work that has been done and is responsible for what is known as "The Chappel Standard of Biological Value for Canned Dog Foods" which ultimately led to stronger standards placed on canned pet food products.

Eventually the supply of horses in the Midwest dried up as they had already purchased most of them, so they turned their attention to the raising their own. The Chappel Brothers formed a new corporation called C.B.C. in 1928 in Miles City, Montana, and leased a million and a half acres of rangeland in Wyoming and Montana. Here they would round up horses and ship them to Rockford by railroad to be slaughtered and processed into Ken-L-Ration dog food. Many cattle ranchers welcomed C.B.C. to rid their land of wild horses, feral horses called mustangs. Their grazing was in direct competition with beef cattle because the horses ate as much grass as the valuable cattle. By the mid-1930's the Chappel Brothers Company grew so large that it started breeding horses to make a meatier horse to supply its demand for dog food as they were slaughtering 50,000 horses a year. Chappel Brothers did have its critics; some were upset with the treatment of the horses shipped in by rail. The railroad, seeing how the horses were destined for slaughter did not go out of their way to provide any food, water or medical care for the animals. The starving animals would chew the tails off of other horses and if any would fall during transport, they were trampled. Several cases were brought up against Chappel but all were overturned as the Chappel Brothers were making everyone rich.

Frank Litts at the time of his first arrest.

On the horizon was Frank Litts, who led a one-man guerrilla campaign against the largest horse slaughtering operation in history as he had a different philosophy than Chappel and thought horse slaughtering was morally wrong. Beginning in October 1925 Litts tried to destroy the massive factory by arson. Although some damage was sustained to the building and a few railcars full of Ken-L Ration were destroyed, it was not enough to close the plant. In the following weeks there would be three more arson attempts by Litts. Chappel was determined to save his plant and had a ten foot high fence erected, hired armed guards and offered a large reward for information leading to an arrest of the arsonist. In December Litts would once again get onto the property and on this occasion he tried to destroy the plant with 150 half pound sticks of dynamite but he did not have time to light the fuse when a guard would spot him. Litts would run and the guard shot at him several times, by this time several other guards had joined in the shooting. He was not located within the fenced area and was presumed to have escaped without being shot. Litts was found 16 hours later in a field shot several times and was semi-conscious but would recover and be arrested but he tried to escape several times. He was found guilty of the crimes and sentenced to the Illinois Asylum for Insane Criminals; even though Litts pleaded he was totally sane. After only a week in prison Litts escaped and after the news of his escape had died down he again returned to Rockford where he once again planned on blowing up the slaughterhouse with dynamite. Luckily he was arrested before he could carry out his plan and was returned to prison where he would later die in prison ending his quest to destroy the horse slaughter plant.

Advertising and sponsorships has always occupied a dominant position as a primary sales stimulus on radio, magazines and newspapers. One was on NBC Blue Network on Monday Evenings when Chappel Brother's would sponsor Little Jackie Heller.

The canning department at Chappel Brothers in the 1920's

Ken-L-Ration Company became the world's biggest packer of horse-meat, at the height of its 1920s operation; Chappel Brothers plant covered 23 acres, employed 600 men, and was posting a profit of $500,000 a year. From 1923 to 1933 the Rockford horse butcher produced 57,889,564 cans of Ken-L-Ration dog food. Chappel did not stop there and continued to develop new products not only for dogs but for cats, birds and other animals. Some of the other products were Ken-L-Meal, Kit-E-Ration, Bird-E-Ration, Pup-E-Ration, Maro-Meat and Ken-L-Worth. There were also many by-products from the horse slaughter operation including bone dust from bones, fertilizer, glue and gelatin from the hooves and fat to name a few.

Phillip M. Chappel shown with son Phillip E. "Jack" Chappel discussing factory improvements during the early years of the company in Rockford.  "Jack" Chappel was born on his father’s farm in 1904 and would join the business when he finished school at the age of 19. He would become the last superintendent of the Rockford plant under Chappel ownership.

With the dawning of the Great Depression of the 1930's the Chappel Company who once had the pet food market in their hands would face many obstacles in the coming years. When the traditional meat factories felt the pinch of the depression this would inspire corporate beef butchers to enter the dog food arena. The Chappels would produce their own canned dog food made from beef for fear that people would stop buying Ken-L-Ration because it was made with horse meat. They did not succeed with their beef product and continued to lose sales, which in turn overwhelmed the Chappel Company plant, driving the company to near bankruptcy. Phillip M. Chappel would soon be ejected from the company and move to Argentina where he tried to resurrect a horse meat factory for human consumption. He would pass away two years later. Unable to recover from the mounting losses the Chappel Brother's Company was sold to cereal maker giant Quaker Oats Company in 1942.

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