On January 1, 1898, the Stokely Brothers & Company formed with Anna R. Stokely and a neighbor, A. R. Swann, investing $1,300 each, and Stokely’s sons James R. and John M. Stokely putting up $650 each.
In the first season, four thousand cases of tomatoes were packed in a crude factory and shipped from the river landing on the family farm to Knoxville and Chattanooga. With this initial success, the family bought out Swann’s interest, brought in another of Stokely’s sons, William B., and reorganized the company into a partnership of four equal parts. Anna Stokely helped in the store, welcomed a growing stream of salesmen and national leaders in the food industry, and provided advice and encouragement to her sons running the canning operation.
An important factor in the family’s success was the distinct talent each brother brought to the company. James served as chief financial officer and president, William managed the farms and crops, and John made an excellent salesman. The other two brothers, MIT-educated George and Harvard Law School graduate Jehu, provided ideas in mechanical innovation and legal matters. With Anna Stokely at its center, Stokely Brothers grew, survived national financial panics, expanded to other sites, and yet remained a family enterprise.
On October 24, 1916, though, Anna and her son George died at a railroad crossing when their car stalled before an approaching train. John died three years later at age forty-three, and James died of a heart attack in 1922 at age forty-seven. Though the three original family founders of the company were gone, Stokely’s grandsons not only kept the business going but expanded it. Stokely Brothers became Stokely-Van Camp in 1933 and developed a national market. More than three decades later the company first produced Gatorade, capping its earlier successes.
In 1983 the firm was acquired by the Quaker Oats Company. When Quaker Oats was acquired by PepsiCo, Inc. in 2001, Stokely-Van Camp's ownership was transferred to Pepsi.
Over the years, the company has been headquartered in Tennessee (1898-1927), Louisville, Kentucky (1927-1933), Indianapolis, Indiana (1933-1983) and Chicago, Illinois (1983-present).