E.A.’s Legacy of Helping Children Since the 30’s

The Stuart Foundation builds upon a commitment to the education and well-being of children, a deeply held value of Elbridge Amos Stuart, the founder of the Carnation Company. Since 1985, the Foundation has invested more than $400 million in people, programs and ideas that improve the lives of children in California and Washington.

The Founder

Elbridge Amos (E.A.) Stuart

E.A. Stuart was born on September 10, 1856 in Guilford County, North Carolina, to a Quaker family of humble means. He was the second to last of 13 children. As a young child, he suffered serious lung illnesses, the effects of which would plague him for most of his life.

At the start of the Civil War, the family moved to Indiana, where they resettled. Given the family’s poverty, E.A. likely did not own his first pair of shoes until he was a teenager. Working on the family farm, he once described warming his feet on cold winter mornings by finding the warm places where cows had lain overnight.

Leaving home as a young man, he tried his hand at business ventures in El Paso, Texas and Los Angeles, California. Both of these ventures failed. It was said that E.A. was too trusting of his business partners, and he paid the price.

Not giving up, he kept searching for the right opportunity. In 1899, having formed a partnership with a man who held the patent for evaporated milk, E.A. founded the Carnation Company in Kent, Washington.

The name Carnation was inspired by a box of cigars. E.A. wanted something to denote freshness of the product, and the names of poppy, rose, and orchid at the time were already taken for milk products. Furthermore, he wanted something even a child could remember or describe when requesting the product.

Carnation’s evaporated milk had a long shelf life. Packaged in sturdy tins, it became a staple for prospectors rushing north to the Yukon gold fields. E.A. sold the iconic tins with the flowered label under the slogan “Milk from Contented Cows.”

The 818-acre Carnation Farms was home to a series of cows that broke records for milk production. E.A. insisted that Carnation cows be handled with sensitivity. In the barn, there was and still is a plaque attesting to how E.A. wanted the cows to be treated with care and respect. Later, the farm was home to stables of show horses and kennels of hunting and show dogs. The farm remains in family hands today.

Record-breaking Cow

Replica of Record-breaking Cow

The success of evaporated milk laid a strong foundation for an enterprise that expanded into many other popular product lines. In 1926, Carnation began producing fresh milk and ice cream. Later, it expanded into pet food with Friskies, which dominated the market in the 1950’s and 1960’s. A true family business, the late Dwight L. Stuart, the founder’s grandson, was Carnation’s president until 1983. He negotiated the company’s sale to Nestlé for $3 billion in 1985. At that time, it was the largest non-oil merger in history.

Carnation Farms, Kent, WA

A Legacy of Giving

“A pioneer, founder, leader, and friend.”

E.A. gave to good causes long before he established a foundation to formalize his giving. Countless charity dinners were hosted at Carnation Farms in its hippodrome – an enormous structure built to show horses.

He hosted these events to benefit Seattle Children’s Hospital and other programs that focused on children’s health, education and welfare. E.A. showed particular dedication to his employees by providing scholarships to help pay for their children’s college tuition. Stories still surface today about acts of generosity large and small. The farm currently honors E.A.’s legacy by operating Carnation Farms as a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating sustainable foods and the impact they have on our health, environment and local communities. In honoring him in 1932, the Carnation Board of Directors called him a “pioneer, founder, leader and friend.”

E.A. solidified his philanthropic efforts in 1937, when he established the Elbridge Stuart Foundation. Four years later, on the 57th anniversary of his marriage, he created the Elbridge and Mary Stuart Foundation. Elbridge H. Stuart, son of E.A. and Mary, established the Mary Horner Stuart Foundation in 1941. In 1944, after a career that took him from poverty to great success and wealth, E.A. died in Los Angeles at the age of 88.

Hippodrome Horse Show

Video: E.A. Stuart, Founder of the Carnation Milk Company

The Foundation Today

Today’s Stuart Foundation was formed by the merger of the three family trusts in 1985 into an independent family foundation dedicated to the protection, education and development of children and youth.  The Foundation has since invested more than $400 million for the benefit of children and youth in California and Washington.

The Foundation’s Board of Trustees has put forward a vision for focused, strategic investments that carries forward E.A.’s commitment to improve the education and lives of young people in California and Washington.  The Board supports programs that help populations in greatest need, including foster youth and children who face economic disadvantage. The Board is particularly interested in systemic interventions that can be scaled up and sustained, such as school leadership development, the support of youth- and parent-serving organizations as catalysts, and innovative school models.  The Stuart family remains active in the Foundation’s grant making, with three of E.A.’s great-grandsons serving on the Board.

Extending the Founder’s Vision

Through grants both large and small, the Stuart Foundation adheres to the vision of its founder, while re-imagining the future of public education, advocating for a vision that encompasses not only high academic standards but also high developmental standards, a system that empowers children and families and gives students their best shot at a bright future.