James L. (J.L.) Kraft

Country of origin: Canada

Year came to U.S.: 1903

Business: Kraft Heinz (1903),
Mondelez International, Inc. (2012)

Headquarters: Northfield, IL (Kraft Heinz)

2020 revenue: $26.0 billion (Kraft Heinz) and $28.7 billion (Mondelēz International)

Worldwide employment: 36,000 (Kraft Heinz) and 79,000 (Mondelēz International)

Ranked 139 (Kraft Heinz) and 121 (Mondelēz International) in the 2022 Fortune 500

  • Kraft Foods started as a one-man business selling cheese with a horse and wagon.

  • J.L. Kraft holds the first patent for processed cheese.

James L. Kraft grew up in a Canadian farming community. A stroke of misfortune led him to start the business that eventually grew into one of the most recognizable American food brands.

Kraft immigrated to New York in 1903 at age 29 and invested in a cheese company. While in Chicago on business, he learned that his partners had dissolved the business. He was left stranded.

With only the money in his pocket, he purchased a horse and wagon and started buying cheese from warehouses and re-selling it to local retail shops. By 1909, he had enough business for his four brothers to join him, and by 1914 they were successful enough to open Kraft’s first cheese manufacturing plant.

Kraft developed a process for pasteurizing cheese so it could be shipped for longer distances. Between 1915 and 1916, sales skyrocketed 30-fold and Kraft applied for the first processed cheese patent. This allowed the company to export tinned cheese to India and Asia and to provide the U.S. government with more than six million pounds of Kraft cheese to feed soldiers during World War I.

J. L. Kraft served as the company’s president until his death in 1953, and his name continues as one of the most recognizable food brands in the world. In 2012, the North American grocery operations were spun off as “Kraft Foods Group” and the rest of the business was renamed Mondelēz International, Inc. In July, 2015, Kraft Foods Group merged with Heinz to create the Kraft Heinz Company, the third largest food and beverage company in North America and the fifth in the world.

Explore the research report New American Fortune 500 in 2021 to learn more about immigrant entrepreneurs who have founded Fortune 500 companies.

Updated July 2022