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The Philanthropists: Henry Crowell

Henry Parsons Crowell (1855–1943) was a Christian philanthropist who founded Quaker Oats Company. Born into a wealthy family (and having inherited a large sum after his father’s death at age 36), Crowell worked hard and honestly even though he probably could have lived very well from what he had inherited. He saw all that he had as a stewardship from God and therefore sought to honor Him with his wealth.

Crowell overcame tuberculosis at a young age (the same disease his father died of). After traveling around the country to help fight the disease, his family eventually settled in Chicago. He bought Quaker Mill in 1881 and married his first wife, Lillie, a year later. Lillie suddenly died just two and a half years into their marriage, after giving birth to their first child, a daughter they named Annie. In 1888, he married Susan Coleman and together they had a powerful influence on others for Christ.

His Conversion

When Crowell was a boy, his family attended Second Presbyterian Church in Massachusetts. His father was concerned about how his great wealth would affect his children, so from a young age he taught them eternal values that would put earthly values in their proper perspective. Crowell was only 9 when his father died and the loss pressed him to come to terms with his own faith in God. So, having spoken to his pastor, he trusted in Christ. After listening to D. L. Moody preach, Crowell prayed, “I can’t be a preacher, but I can be a good businessman. God, if You will let me make money, I will use it in Your service.”

Throughout his life, Crowell had a passionate hunger for the God and His word. He sought the Lord through the various family and business struggles that he endured. Together with his wife, Susan, they were known not just for their financial wealth, but also for their strong Christian beliefs. They shared the gospel with others in the contexts of their businesses and social circles. In fact, numerous corporate giants professed faith in Christ because of their shared influence.

His Contributions

For 40 years, Crowell served as the chairman of the Board at Moody Bible Institute, and he helped financially endow the school (in fact, the college named their 12-story Crowell Hall after him). He and his wife supported over 100 like-minded evangelical organizations through the Henry Parsons and Susan Coleman Crowell Trust. He also taught new methods of marketing and merchandising that are still used today (in fact, he introduced the idea that humans—not just horses—can eat oats). Many of his colleagues regarded his work highly as he proved himself an extraordinary businessman.

Crowell died in 1943 at the age of 82 having given away roughly 70 percent of his income for over 40 years. He was one of the wealthiest and most influential Christian businessmen in Chicago at the time. The more money he gave away, the more he prospered. His life powerfully portrays one who trusts in God with all that he is and has.