The precursor of the Folger Coffee Company was founded in 1850 in San Francisco, California, U.S., as the Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills. William H. Bovee, the owner of the Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills, saw an opportunity to produce roasted and ground coffee ready for brewing. Before that, Californians had to purchase green coffee beans and roast and grind them on their own. To help build his mill, Bovee hired James A. Folger as a carpenter. James had arrived from Nantucket Island at the age of 15 with his two older brothers during the California Gold Rush. In the 1850s, kerosene began to offer a cheaper alternative to whale oil, which had been Nantucket’s life-blood, resulting in the re-purposing of many of its ships to bring coffee from South America to San Francisco. After working at Bovee’s mill for nearly a year, James had saved enough money to stake a claim in the company and headed out to mine for gold. He agreed to carry along samples of coffee and spices, taking orders from grocery stores along the way. Upon his return to San Francisco in 1865, James became a full partner of The Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills. In 1872, he bought out the other partners and renamed the company to J.A. Folger & Co.
In 1861, James married, and he and his wife had four children. Two of the children worked for the family business. In 1889, James died, and his oldest son, James A. Folger II, stepped into the role of president of J.A. Folger & Co at the age of 26.
In the 1900s, the company began to grow dramatically due primarily to a salesman named Frank P. Atha. Atha sold coffee in the California area, but proposed to James Folger II that he open and manage a Folgers Coffee plant in Texas. The company grew exponentially after Atha opened the Texas plant.
Under the mid-20th century leadership of Peter Folger, the brand became one of the principal coffee concerns in the world’s largest coffee market: North America. Procter & Gamble (P&G) acquired Folger’s in 1963 and removed the apostrophe from its name. During P&G’s ownership, Folgers became the number-one coffee brand in America.
P&G announced in January 2008 Folgers would be spun off into a separate Cincinnati-based company. In June 2008, P&G reversed itself and announced Folgers would be acquired by the end of 2008 by The J.M. Smucker Company. Utilizing a rare financial technique called a Reverse Morris Trust, Smucker purchased Folgers in November 2008 and made it a subsidiary.