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The History of Cereal

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We all know cereal is without doubt the most popular breakfast in America today. However, we hear little about the history of cereal and our dependence on it for our morning nutrition kick.

While the history of cereal will not change your life in any dramatic way, it is an interesting look back in history and can be a fun conversation piece!

One hundred and fifty years ago, Americans were eating pork, beef, or chicken for their breakfasts. In the 19th century, Americans ate breakfasts heavy on the meat and light on grains and fiber. In time, those interested in eating more healthy foods began a push for all Americans to eat better.

Granola This brought about the creation of Granula (yes, granula). This name derived from granulates, which is to form into granules or grains. In 1863 this became our first breakfast cereal and consisted of heavy nuggets made from bran, the outer husk of a grain that is removed when making flour. The cereal had to be soaked overnight before being eaten. Simply pouring milk over it was not enough to make it edible.

The cereals we eat today grew out of a health movement that began in the 1860s. Thin, baked dough served to patients in hospitals became the interest of two men, C.W. Post and W. K. Kellogg. Both men saw a business opportunity in creating a tasty, ready-to-eat morning cereal that would be as nutritious as this baked dough was. These two men started their own companies, named them after themselves and changed the way Americans ate breakfast.

In 1865, Mr. Post developed an item called Postum, a hot drink made of cereal. Two years later he developed Grape Nuts which we are all familiar with today.

Mr. Kellogg developed his first cereal in 1906 and named it Kellogg's Toasted Corn Flakes. The third largest breakfast cereal producer today is General Mills. Its claim to fame began in 1924 when it created the well-known and loved Wheaties cereal.

When cereal was first developed, it consisted of simple, flat flakes. In 1937, General Mills invented the "puffing gun" which heated grains such as rice until they puffed up into crunchy little balls. The very first "puffed" cereal to hit the marked was Kix. After Kix hit the market, a new process began to make cereal called shredding. The results were the creation of the well-known cereal, Shredded Wheat. Also incorporated was the process of extruding the flakes into pellets, which brought about the creation of cereals like Captain Krunch.

Rice Krispie Elves By the middle 1950's, cereal manufacturers discovered new customers -- kids. Adding sugar to cereal became popular along with prizes in the boxes and the introduction of cartoon characters such as the Trix Rabbit and Tony the Tiger. Some of the oldest cereal characters are the Rice Krispies elves, Snap, Crackle and Pop. Snap worked alone when first introduced and added to the cereal box. Crackle and Pop joined him a few years later.

The top ten cereals in the United States. Source: Information Resources, Inc.

  • General Mills Cereal
  • Kellogg's Frosted Flakes
  • General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios
  • Kellogg's Frosted Mini Wheats
  • Kellogg's Raisin Bran
  • General Mills Lucky Charms
  • Kellogg's Corn Flakes
  • General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch
  • Kellogg's Rice Krispies
  • Post Honey Bunches of Oats

A bit of cereal trivia...

Sam Porter Goldsmith: Cereal. Back in 1952, Sam Goldsmith sketched a character that would compete with three other characters in a contest to become the official mascot of a then brand-new breakfast cereal. The public would be the judge. The contestants were Newt the Gnu, Katy the Kangaroo, Elmo the Elephant, and Tony the Tiger. Guess who won?

Cereal Lore

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