George Douglas

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George Douglas, centre, with his brothers
left to right: front row - Alexander Douglas, George Douglas and Donald Douglas. back row - William Douglas, and John Douglas
George Douglas


Son of George and Ginette Douglas

One of 5 brothers, the others reputedly settling in Canada.

He came to Rochester, New York in 1848 and entered the construction business, concentrating on railroads, bridges and canals.

George Bruce Douglas had a profound influence on the industrial development of Cedar Rapids. The Douglases had moved to Iowa to invest their substantial capital in businesses that relied on agriculture and a well-educated labor force made up largely of German and Czech immigrants seeking opportunity in America. Working first in his father’s cereal business, George Bruce Douglas later became a partner of the business his father co-founded, The Quaker Oats Company. George and his brother Walter founded Douglas & Company, which originally processed linseed oil. In 1903, the company switched over to processing corn into starch and related products.

The company flourished, distinguishing itself not only as a leading industry in Cedar Rapids, but also the largest starch factory west of the Mississippi. In May of 1919, a grain dust explosion destroyed most the buildings on the ten-acre site - the worst industrial accident in Cedar Rapids history.

Irene Hazeltine DouglasWhen George Bruce Douglas and his wife Irene Hazeltine Douglas moved to the mansion in 1906, the estate was renamed Brucemore; combining George’s middle name with an allusion to the moors of Scotland. The property grew from 10 to more than 33 acres. Chicago architect Howard van Doren Shaw, who specialized in North Shore mansions, oversaw the renovation(which exceeded $30,000). Shaw relocated the entrance to the south facade and built a terrace on the north side, which faced the extensive lawn. Inside, butternut paneling and ceiling beams were added to the great hall. In the 1920s, the Douglases enhanced this space with a dramatic mural depicting scenes from Richard Wagner’s opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung. A Skinner player organ was later installed with its 678 pipes housed on the third floor. A sleeping porch was designed and created in 1925 by Grant Wood, a local artist who later became world renowned for his Regionalist paintings, most notably American Gothic. These are some examples of the Douglases’ interest in supporting local artists. Although Mrs. Douglas had access to the arts in larger cities, she was most interested in promoting regional artists and craftsmen.

George and Irene Douglas took an active part in shaping their community. George Douglas helped found the Cedar Rapids National Bank, and served on the boards of St. Luke’s Hospital and First Presbyterian Church. Irene Douglas was a charter member of the White Cross Society and the Cedar Rapids Art Association, and helped found the Junior League. Both were trustees of Coe College.

George Douglas and familyAt home, Irene Douglas was a tolerant mother and Brucemore a generous playground for the Douglases’ three daughters, Margaret, Ellen, and Barbara. In the early years, the girls and their friends were tutored in the third-floor preschool. As they grew older, they enjoyed such treats as roller-skating in the halls and playing Ping-Pong on the large mahogany dining room table. Much later, the rugs in the Great Hall would be removed for dancing. Irene Douglas encouraged her daughters to develop themselves artistically as well as academically. Margaret, the eldest by twelve years, was a sculptor, Ellen was a writer and Barbara was a musician.

Irene Douglas was a benefactor of many civic organizations, although her contributions were often made anonymously. She was one of the six original donors to Camp Good Health, a summer camp for physically handicapped children. Though not a member of the Public Heath Nursing Association, she kept a standing agreement with the association’s board to provide financial help in emergencies. She helped raise funds to send several young artists to Europe for study, and opened her home to annual meetings of the Beethoven Club, the College Club, and the Cedar Rapids Garden Club. Irene Douglas’ generosity extended even to the gardens she loved, from which colorful bouquets were sent to families and social clubs for many years.

Renovation of the Brucemore landscape was largely complete by 1915. The servants’ duplex was finished circa 1909, followed by the barn, bookbindery/squash court, and Garden House. The book bindery/squash court was built in part to accommodate Irene Douglas’ book binding hobby.

Under the supervision of Chicago landscape architect, O.C. Simonds, the Douglases added a duck pond, large formal gardens, and vegetable and cutting gardens. The swimming pool was installed in 1927. A grass tennis court located in front of the Garden House provided another recreational option.

Margaret and Ellen DouglasIn 1937, fourteen years after the death of her husband, Irene Douglas died in the house she had made a home. She bequeathed the Brucemore estate to her eldest daughter, Margaret Douglas Hall.

1850-70 - George Douglas  followed the westward expansion of the railroads. In the early 1870's his company contracted with John I. Blair, railroad financier, to grade, lay track & construct bridges in western Iowa, eastern Nebraska and Texas.

1874 - George Douglas entered a partnership with Robert Stuart in the manufacture of oatmeal and other cereal products. This partnership lasted until George Douglas Sr.'s death in 1884.

The family business, known as North Star Oatmeal Mills,continued to grow as George Sr.'s three sons took active roles in its operation.

Other Douglas family businesses were a shoe factory, Gates, Gifford and Douglas headed by Walter, and a cracker factory called Jones and Douglas, managed by George Sr.'s nephew James Douglas.

1894  The three Douglas brothers formed Douglas & Company to manufacture linseed oil. This company operated it at 6th St. & D Ave. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

1899  The Douglas & Company was sold to the American Linseed Company.

1902  George and Walter started building an independent starch manufacturing company. The company prospered and more than tripled its production in three years.

Important by-products of the starch making process were gluten feed used to fatten cattle, and corn oil which was used to manufacture soap in that era, rather than its present day use as cooking oil and in other food products.

1905 Walter moved to Minneapolis where he developed interests in banking and grain processing.

1906 George Bruce Douglas and his wife Irene Hazeltine Douglas moved to a mansion named Brucemore. The estate was renamed Brucemore because his middle name was Bruce. The Douglas family hired a Chicago architect Howard van to make $30,000 worth of renovations on the home.

1912 Misfortune seemed to plague the Douglas family. Walter and his wife Mahala were touring Europe and were passengers on the voyage of the Titanic. She survived but he did not.

1918 The Douglas Starchworks was extensively expanded which added manufacturing capacity and a handsome new office building.

1919 Disaster soon followed. The complex was wracked by a massive explosion at 6:30 in the evening of May 22nd, and the ensuing fire left a landscape resembling a war zone.

1919 Following the disaster, stockholders deserted en masse but George Douglas was able to hold the company together until a Louisiana company, Penick & Ford Ltd. purchased it in December, and in 1921 it was rebuilt and resumed production.

1923 George B. Douglas died. His wife Irene Douglas, lived in the family home, Brucemore, until her death in 1937.

George Bruce Douglas had a profound influence on the industrial development of Cedar Rapids. His companies were early pioneers in moving corn products from field to table. Today multi-national companies such as Quaker Oats and Archer Daniels Midland process Iowa products and serve consumers worldwide through a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Cedar Rapids, the Magnificent Century, Harold F. Ewoldt, 1988, Windsor Publications, Northridge, CA

He was interred in The Douglas Family Crypt at the Oak Hill Cemetery, which was erected in 1885 in his memory.

The Quaker Oats Company was officially formed in 1901 when several American pioneers in oat milling came together to incorporate the now familiar name. In the late 1800s, each of three Midwest milling companies had independently begun to process and sell high-quality oats for the consumer--giving the American family a product that would be superior in quality to the oats sold in open barrels at general stores. In Ravenna, Ohio, Henry D. Seymour and William Heston had established the Quaker Mill Company and registered the now famous trademark. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, John Stuart, his son Robert and their partner, George Douglas, operated the largest cereal mill of the time. Ferdinand Schumacher, known as "The Oatmeal King," founded German Mills American Oatmeal Company in 1856 after selling oats in his Akron, Ohio, store for two years. Combining these companies after the turn of the century brought together the top oats milling expertise in the country and gave the newly formed corporation a name that--even then--was a symbol of quality and purity.

  • Birth: 17 April 1817, Caithness, Scotland
  • Death: 1884, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

    Father: George Douglas, 1772 - 1865

    Mother: Ginette Gunn, 1778 - 1854


Marriage 1 ? 
3 Children:
  1. George Bruce Douglas, d1923
  2. William W. Douglas
  3. Walter D. Douglas

George Bruce Douglas

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