In less plentiful times, most dogs scavenged food or ate what people discarded, supplementing their diets with hunting forays and garbage raids. In better times, dog food was a concoction of leftovers, usually baked in loaves and sliced up at dinner time.
Commercial dog food was the 1860 invention of American James Spratt who devised a novelty dog food biscuit, Spratt's Patent Meal Fibrine Dog Cakes. He marketed to upper class British and European sporting dog fanciers. Spratt mixed several ingredients in a batter that he baked and cut into cubes.
William H. Danforth founded the Purina Company in 1902. He made and distributed commercial dog food in the U.S. on a large scale. Danforth industrialized the process and compressed the cereal through an extruder in the shape of small pellets that he called and trademarked Checkers. Purina Dog Chow Checkers was sold through Purina dealers beginning in 1926.
In 1929, Albert Brothers Milling Company cooked up a dog food they called Friskies. It was first promoted in Alaska for sled dogs.
Sled dogs were getting a lot of press at the time, as pioneering aviator and polar explorer Admiral Richard Byrd led expeditions to the North and South Poles.
But dog food sales plummeted at the onset of the depression and Checkers and Friskies sat on the shelf. Most people couldn't afford to buy commercial dog food at any price.
In 1931 Purina registered its first loss. Two years later, Danforth, an enthusiastic promoter, got Admiral Byrd to endorse his Purina products. This postcard shows Byrd team member, Charles E. Lofgren, with one of the expedition's huskies.
The dog food market picked up in 1935. Albers Brothers Milling Company merged with Carnation and in 1936 release Friskies directly to the public. By the 1950s, both Purina Checkers and Friskies were widely available through local grocery stores. Today, in the U.S., we spend more than 10 billion dollars a year on companion animal food.