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Korn Kurl, The Original Cheesy Snack | How Did Animal Grain End Up As Today’s Cheetos?

Innovation is all around us. And it’s essential. Our history is full of everyday people coming up with an idea to improve life, create new solutions, products or services. People everywhere have great ideas and that was the case in Beloit, Wisconsin. Over 1,500 patents have come out of their city, where there will be many more to come.

We met many trailblazers at the Beloit event in November. They’re creating solutions in health, play and food. Make48’s crew spoke to many innovators from the city, including Prudence (Prudy) Adams-Harker and her very interesting connection to the much-loved cheesy snack, Cheetos! Read how Prudy’s family took animal feed and turned it into one of the best selling snacks of all time.

Did you know that the invention of the Korn Kurl (Cheetos) was a complete accident and started out as a feed grinder to help protect livestock from choking? Prudy Adams-Harker is a direct descendent of the inventors and spoke about the history of the Korn Kurl.

The original invention started with a feed grinder developed by Clair Matthews and a dairy farmer named Ron Dougan. Ron had a wonderful farm with dairy cows and everyone in this area bought his milk. A problem was occurring with cows and other farm animals choking on some of the feed they were eating, mainly grain (alfalfa, barley, corn). Mr. Matthews worked with Farmer Dougan to create an auger with a wheel and axle to grind, as a pestle. The resulting grain came out as “flaky.” Prudy’s grandfather was an attorney and helped form the group who started their company called Flakall Corporation. It was the first to produce this new style of feed. Prudy’s father was the first salesman to bring the product to the masses. On June 7, 1938, the first patent was received. The company’s first product was flaked rabbit feed made out of alfalfa, oats, barley, oil, wheat, salt and molasses.

After applying for the original patent, the company set up their “Flakall machine” and they had “flakers” who would feed the meal through the machines. One day, a gentleman named Edward Wilson saw these strange looking things coming out the other end of the Flakall machine. That particular day it was extremely hot and because they used cracked corn (which had also become hot) to clean out this machine, it looked like popcorn was coming out of the auger and falling to the floor. He took it home and told his wife ‘we’ll deep fry this and put some salt on it’. The idea took off and became very popular because it tasted like sweet corn. They knew they had a hit and Prudy’s grandfather and their team went back in to file new patents, not for feed grinders, but for food patents. They filed two patents, one for the process and one for the machine, in 1939, just before WWII. It was dubbed the “Korn Kurl” and very soon it would create a big impact on the snack food industry! This cheesy snack became so popular, the company ran another flaker just for the production of Korn Kurls. By 1946, one of the founders of the Flakall Corporation had formed the Adams Corporation and commercialized Korn Kurls. The Frito-Lay plant in Beloit now ships truckloads of these and other tasty snacks all over the country.

Prudy Adams-Harker at The Lincoln Academy

Across America, everyday folks are driven by the need to make things happen. Whether it’s professionals in big cities or farmers in small towns, innovation can be found everywhere. Prudy has some thoughts on why Beloit is such an important part of the history of innovation. “I'm smiling, because small town America can be defined in many ways. You can't just say you can't do it because you’re in a small town. Farmers are some of the most innovative, because they make do with what they have. If they don't, they invent it, which is what Mr. Dougan did. In a community like Beloit, there are a lot of resources around. We have a lot of different companies, programs and innovative groups. No matter where you are, you can make it work. The world is your oyster today. I think contributing to your work, community and to yourself makes a good person. And that’s what this country is all about.”

Thank you to Prudy Adams-Harker for sitting down with our team to share her family history. Now that has us thinking…what does innovation mean to you?

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