Anderson, Clayton and Company, cotton merchants, was founded by brothers-in-law Frank E. Anderson and William Lockhart Clayton, cotton merchants, and Monroe D. Anderson, a banker. The partnership was established in Oklahoma City on August 1, 1904. In 1905 Benjamin Clayton, Will's younger brother and an expert in rail and steamship transportation, joined the firm. Company headquarters moved to Houston in 1916 to be nearer the deep-water port facilities of the Houston Ship Channel.
World War I demands for cotton enhanced the company's fortunes. As its buying and distributing organization expanded, the firm acquired storage and compressors for American cotton handling and improved its finance and insurance arrangements. As United States exports and banking accommodations grew, Anderson, Clayton set up overseas distributing agents. By the mid-1920s company trading firms were operating in Europe, Egypt, India, and China.
In the Great Depression, Farm Board price-support legislation and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act necessitated geographical diversification to protect the firm's interests from the uncertainties of government policy. Development of an organization for accumulating, handling, selling, and distributing cotton abroad allowed Anderson, Clayton ultimately to sell any nation's cotton to any nation's spinners. New South American subsidiaries were set up, and, as cotton growing in other countries spread, the firm followed, offerings its services. At home, cottonseed-oil refineries produced salad oils, shortenings, and cattle feed under a variety of trademarks. By 1940 Anderson, Clayton could provide American cotton growers with service and supervision at all stages of cotton production, ginning, by-products merchandising, and finance. Before World War II the company purchased Gulf Atlantic Warehousing to improve its access to cotton resources and built a lab for the development of disease-resistant cottonseed.
From 1928 to 1930 and again in 1936 Anderson, Clayton and Company was investigated by the United States Senate on charges of manipulating the market. William L. Clayton, later assistant United States secretary of state, responded to the charges, and no action was taken. Clayton's successful negotiations with northern investors for "Southern delivery" to non-New York ports on cotton futures contracts altered a long-standing tradition and aided the firm.
After initial war-related setbacks Anderson, Clayton continued to sell cotton in Europe in the 1940s, avoiding conflict by quick turnover of its supplies. To aid in the war effort, the company used its line of barges and tugs to transport fuels, and the Long Reach Machine Works, built in 1942 to manufacture cotton-handling machinery, was converted to army ordnance production.
The company was incorporated in 1929 and remained private until 1945. At that time it went public and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The move allowed the M. D. Anderson Foundation to purchase land for the Texas Medical Center through sale of company stock. By 1945, with 223 gins, 33 cottonseed oil plants, and 123 warehouses worldwide, Anderson, Clayton and Company was called the largest buyer, seller, storer, and shipper of raw cotton in the world by Fortune Magazine. Its subsidiaries included a marine insurance company, the barge line, bagging and cotton-blanket mills, a Mexican loan bank, and the machine works. After 1950 sales in the international market reached 3½ percent of all the world's production, and the multimillion-dollar corporation came to be known as ACCO, or the Big Store.
When rayon threatened the cotton market after the war, ACCO further diversified, reducing its cotton interests by half and adding industrials, government warehousing services, and other interests. A Foods Division was organized after the purchase of Mrs. Tucker's Foods of Sherman, Texas, in 1952 and by 1954 ACCO sold Chiffon margarine and Seven Seas dressing and owned some of the first consumer-product franchises in Mexico. By 1965 the company handled approximately 15 percent of Brazilian coffee exports and a substantial quantity from other countries, as well as cocoa exports and soybean processing.
By 1977 Anderson, Clayton and Company maintained firms or exclusive agents for cotton in over forty nations; had expanded its Ranger trademark insurance ventures, founded in 1923, with acquisition of Pan Am Insurance in 1968 and American Founders Life in 1977; and had acquired Igloo Corporation, a producer of thermoplastic beverage containers and ice chests. The company climaxed its shipping investments as cooperator of the first nuclear-powered merchant ship, the Savannah.
Pruning of operations began in the 1960s, and by 1973 the firm had withdrawn from cotton merchandising everywhere except in Brazil and Mexico and considered itself chiefly a producer of food products. In the fiscal year 1982 gross sales reached $1.9 billion and net income $55.4 million. The company employed 15,000 persons worldwide. Anderson, Clayton and Company became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Quaker Oats Company in 1986, when Quaker Oats purchased the Anderson Clayton stock. Some food products, notably Gaines dog food, continued to be marketed under the name Anderson Clayton, but the company's Houston headquarters was closed and the stock was delisted.