How Breakfast Cereal Changed the World

PHOTO: John K. Stuff

PHOTO: John K. Stuff

Today, we have thousands of breakfast options available on our grocery store shelves. There’s a million brands of breakfast cereal, granola, and even breakfast cereal bars. Cereal has taken the world by a storm, and it’s not really going away anytime soon. It wasn’t always this way. Two-hundred years ago, the average joe was skeptical about the first breakfast cereals. Who started making them? Why? And why did they become popular?

Believe it or not, our sugar bombs and frosted flakes started out as a health food. During the 1800s, most people’s diets were void of fiber and full of red meat. Gastrointestinal diseases were a real problem. When the Victorian Era rolled around in the late 1800s and early-to-mid 1900s, people became obsessed with their health. A good many doctors and health gurus figured out that fiber was responsible for a healthy gut, so they set out to fix the problem of the fiberless diet.

It all began with a man named Dr. James Caleb Jackson. Dr. Jackson created the world’s first breakfast cereal, called “Granula”. It was kind of like Grape-nuts made for superman. Granula was made of dense bran nuggets. The cereal was dry, bland, and was so hard that the nuggets had to be soaked overnight just to become edible. As you can imagine, it didn’t catch on much farther than Dr. Jackson’s own health spa.

But, luckily for cereal, one of Dr. Jackson’s patrons was a woman named Ellen G. White, the founder of the Seventh Day Adventist religion. While that might not sound like much (at least when it comes to breakfast cereal), Ellen G. White’s new religion soon found a new acolyte in one very famous man: John Kellogg.

Yep. John Kellogg, like the breakfast cereal brand.

John Harvey Kellogg. [PHOTO: mentalfloss.com]

John Harvey Kellogg. [PHOTO: mentalfloss.com]

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, together with his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, made their living running the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek Michigan. While he wasn’t the most reliable of doctors (history has labeled him as a quack), he was considered a very knowledgeable man during his lifetime. Since Kellogg was a Seventh-Day-Adventist, he didn’t eat meat, and he thought that was the best way for everyone to live, so he started creating vegetarian alternatives to all kinds of things. John Kellogg was the man that gave us breakfast cereal.

John Harvey and his brother created several variations of granola as a grain-based breakfast option. They also created a cereal called wheatmeal. In 1894, one of their wheatmeal batches was left overnight in the roller. The brothers thought that the whole batch was ruined, but instead, they found that each wheat berry had flattened and dried into individual flakes. They decided to roast the flakes and try serving them to their patients. It was a hit, and thus, the first Wheaties were born.

Ex-patients liked the flakes so much that they asked for them in the mail. From then on out, the Kellogg brothers were the creators of the packaged cereal enterprise and launched a massive advertising campaign.

PHOTO: pinterest

PHOTO: pinterest

Breakfast cereal wasn’t an immediate hit with the rest of the world, as it turned out. Many people brushed it off as a ridiculous health fad, convinced that people needed to eat ‘healthy’ amounts of pork and beef for breakfast. But slowly, the Kellogg Brothers’ advertising campaign won out. People wanted to be healthy and wanted to teach their children good eating habits. The advertisements told them day-in and day-out that breakfast cereal was the healthiest option, so they gave in and started buying breakfast cereal.

When Charles Post launched on the health-spa and cereal-selling bandwagon in 1897, he began the first nation-wide advertising campaign in the United States to sell his own coffee substitute. Shortly after that, he moved on to advertising his own Granula, the cereal we know today as “Grape Nuts”.

Together, the combined advertising campaigns of the Kellogg Brothers’ and William Post changed the entire world’s outlook on breakfast cereal. It became the thing to eat in the morning as part of a balanced breakfast.

Today, Kellogg and Post are two of the largest cereal manufacturers in the world. Our store shelves are lined with all sorts of cereals, from the healthy to the sugar-blasted. It’s undeniable: the world loves cereal, and we’ll probably never stop. To think it all started in one little health-spa in Michigan!