Purina traces its roots back to 1894, when founder William H. Danforth began producing feed for various farm animals under the name Purina Mills. Later, in 1902, he merged with health guru and visionary Webster Edgerly, founder of Ralstonism, who was at the time producing breakfast cereals, to form the "Ralston-Purina Company".
The animal feed business became the subject of a takeover bid by Swiss-based Nestlé, whose "Friskies" brand was the other leading brand of pet food in the U.S. This bid was eventually accepted in 2001. Several brands of pet food (e.g., "Meow Mix") had to be divested separately to meet antitrust concerns. Purina brands are now made and marketed by a division of Nestlé (Nestlé Purina PetCare) which is still headquartered in St. Louis. Purina Mills, Inc., the U.S. animal feed business that was sold by Ralston Purina Company in 1986, was purchased by Koch Industries in 1998, but a U.S. Bankruptcy Court cancelled out all equity held by Koch in order to maintain the company's viability. Purina Mills LLC is now owned by Land O'Lakes.
While primarily a pet food company, Ralston Purina also made some other pet-related products, such as Tidy Cats brand cat litter, purchased from Edward Lowe Industries in 1990. Also, Purina has honoured several Canadian animals every year since 1968 in their Animal Hall of Fame. The latest inductees included a police service dog who "rushed and subdued an armed robber."
To date, nearly 60 million containers of pet food sold under 100 different brand labels have been recalled.
In 1977, Ralston Purina acquired Missouri Arena Corporation and the St. Louis Blues National Hockey League franchise. The franchise was later sold in the 1980s. During the company's ownership of the team, they changed the name of the St. Louis Arena to the Checkerdome, reflecting the Ralston Purina logo.
Ralston Purina purchased the Eveready Battery Company in 1986, owner of the Eveready and Energizer brands. The company was spun off in 2000.
Ralston Purina purchased Continental Baking Company "aka" Wonder Bread & Hostess Cake from ITT in 1984. Ralston did spin off Continental Baking Company and then was bought out by Interstate Brands Corporation "IBC" headquarters in Kansas City, MO.
Its headquarters was called Checkerboard Square. At one point it owned an interest in the St. Louis Blues National Hockey League team; during this period the arena they then used was referred to as the "Checkerdome".
As a boy, William Danforth, one of the founders of Ralston Purina, worked in his father's store in Charleston, Missouri. Every Saturday he watched the Brown brood come to town, all clad in red and white checks. It was convenient for Mrs. Brown to make the entire family's clothes from the same bolt of checkerboard cloth.
In 1902, Danforth was looking for a distinctive dress for his products, and naturally remembered Mrs. Brown. His reasoning was sound, for the red and white checkerboard identified his products just as boldly as it had the Brown family.
The checkerboard logo then evolved into personal development concept Danforth put forth in his book I Dare You (ISBN 0-7661-2786-9) in which he used a checkerboard to explain it. Danforth proposed that four key components in life need to be in balance. In the illustration, "Physical" was on the left, "Mental" on top, "Social" on right and "Religious" on the bottom. To be healthy, you needed the four squares to stay in balance and one area was not to develop at expense of the other. The concept became intertwined with the company in 1921 when it began selling feed that was pressed in cubes called "checkers."