The Early Years of American Ready to Eat Breakfast Cereal: The Breakfast Cereal Revolution Until 1930

There's a Reason- Breakfast Cereal and its Non-Breakfast Implications

The breakfast cereal revolution was not a self contained event.  The advent and rush of breakfast cereals to the market had far reaching implications for the rest of American food and industry.  The first was the way that breakfast cereal was sold- its packaging.  Prior to the breakfast cereal revolution, food was sold unpackaged and by weight[1].  An individual would enter the store, ask for a certain amount of an item, and the shopkeeper would weigh out the amount.  Foods sold like this were open and exposed to the air and contamination.  Insects, mold, and even the shopkeeper could contaminate the food, making it not only unsafe but unpleasant to eat.  Exposure to the air also meant that foods meant to stay dry and crisp went soggy and stale very quickly.  The problem was solved by packaging the food items in their own individual containers.  James Caleb Jackson's Granula had it's own packaging and came in a tin, but the practice did not come into its own until Henry Crowell and his contemporaries began to sell their cereal.  Henry Crowell, the man behind Quaker Oats, sold his oats in round cardboard packages, and both Post and Kellogg's companies sold their cereal in cardboard boxes- Kellogg's called theirs "wax-tite" and featured it in their advertising campaigns.  The sale of cereal in packages came at a time when food purity was a high priority of the American public, and the packaging of the foods in boxes that kept them safe from outside contamination proved to be a boon not only for breakfast cereal, but for the food industry as a whole[2].  
     Breakfast cereal also heralded a revolution in marketing.  The individual packaging that cereal was sold in provided a free space for advertising and company logos.  Kellogg's boxes featured W.K. Kellogg's signature.  Quaker Oat containers featured a picture of a generic Quaker man. Elijah's Manna, the cereal manufactured by Post that would become Post Toasties, originally featured a picture of the biblical Elijah being fed by a raven.  Breakfast marketing campaigns also made use of premiums, items that customers could receive from the company for purchasing their products.  By far the most popular of these items was the "Funny Jungleland Moving Picture Booklet", a booklet aimed at children that featured pictures of animals cut up into pieces that the children could move around and recombine to their heart's content.  Customers could receive the booklet after purchasing two boxes of corn flakes, and Kellogg’s gave away over 40 million of them between 1909 and 1933.
     While Kellogg's was certainly successful in their marketing attempts, the true master of breakfast cereal advertising (and even the grandfather of American advertising as a whole[4]) was C.W. Post.  Prior to Post's advertising revolution, advertising was a relatively frowned upon practice.  As the book Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal states, "In the late nineteenth century, respectable men of finance viewed advertising as little more than legalized gambling.'.[5]"  The reputation of advertising was that it unfairly manipulated the public into buying products based on potentially dishonest terms.  Post, however, had no such qualms and began to relentlessly advertise in papers and other publications.  Post's advertisements, which bought him wild success, opened the floodgates for a myriad of other companies to advertise their products and begin reaping the benefits.  Post's advertisements also excelled in convincing potential buyers that they had illnesses and ailments they knew nothing of, for which his products were the cure.  Post invented ailments such as "brain fag", "coffee heart", and "coffee neuralgia"[6].  His ads for Postum demonized coffee, calling it poisonous and hazardous to one's health, and others grouped it along with truly hazardous substances such as cocaine and morphine.  Postum advertisements also claimed that the lack of caffeine would aid in sleep for the consumer.
     Breakfast cereal helped revolutionized the regulation of advertising as quickly as it revolutionized advertising itself.  Post had been advertising Grape Nuts as being more nutritious than another known food.  First, the advertisements claimed that the body derived more nourishment from Grape Nuts than from 10 times as much of any other type of food.  In 1904, several states published studies on Grape Nuts, showing it to be about as nutritious as oatmeal.  Post quickly changed his advertisements, claiming instead that the body derived more nutrition from Grape Nuts than from an equal amount of any other food.  With the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, however, required truthful labeling of foods and Grape Nuts advertisements ceased such claims, especially after Post was sued for libel by Collier’s Weekly.
     The wildly successful grain based breakfast cereals also had an effect on another aspect of American food culture: meat production.  The success of Corn Flakes and Grape Nuts- corn and wheat based cereals, respectively- meant an increased demand for the grains.  Conversely, since Americans were switching en masse to ready to eat cereal for breakfast from heavier meat based breakfasts, demand for meat declined[8].  Farmers began to switch from growing cows, pigs, and sheep to wheat and corn.  The decline was so sharp that a New York Times article published July 25, 1909 titled "How the Breakfast Foods are Absorbing the Cattle Ranges of the West" predicted that the American working class would have to give up meat entirely since low supply made it scarce and high demand made it expensive[9].  Breakfast cereal also heralded an increased demand for milk, helping lead to better sterilization and increased consumption of the liquid.
[1] Carroll, Three Squares, 147
[2] Ibid147
[4] Ibid, 145
[5] Bruce, Cerealizing America, 28
[6] Ibid, 28-29
[8]Carroll, Three Squares, 148
[9] Hill, How the Breakfast Foods are Absorbing the Cattle Ranges of the West

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