Cornflake Crusade

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Post introduced the consumer-unit packaging and a standard, uniform product, manufactured on a large scale. He contrived new methods of mass distribution. And he taught the public to use his product by a new kind of argumentative advertising which he wrote himself. “Makes Red Blood” the Postum advertisements proclaimed and did not mince words about the “poisonous alkaloids” in coffee. Coffee was also tagged as a cause of rheumatism. “Coffee Heart” might send the palpitating reader “to his or her long home.”

Postum Cereal was first put up in paper bags and sold around Battle Creek from a hand cart. In February, 1895, C. W. went to Grand Rapids with a supply of Postum Cereal Food Coffee, a pot of cream, and an alcohol lamp to demonstrate his new product. Post boiled his vegetarian brew in the office of Willis H. Turner, the editor of the Evening News , and demonstrated to Turner the fragrance, potability, caffeinefree characteristics of his brain child. He left with a credit of $1,000 for advertising. By April total sales amounted to $856. In December they were $5,000. The next year they jumped again—$265,000 was the closing figure. In 1898 sales amounted to $840,000. Growth continued at an almost geometrical ratio.

Industrious Charlie Post invented a disease called “coffee neuralgia” and poured on more advertising. “Lost Eyesight through Coffee Drinking,” Post wrote of a sad case reported from Aurora, Illinois. The moral: Quit coffee. Take up well-boiled Postum.

Postum, a hot drink, developed a seasonal pattern of sales with the peak in the winter. Post needed another cereal product to sell in the summer. For several years he had prepared a granulated food for his own use and twice-baked it in his kitchen range, with the help of his little daughter.∗ In later life Mrs. Marjorie Post Close Hutton Davies, owner of the Sea Cloud , the world’s biggest private yacht, and former wife of Joseph E. Davies, U.S. ambassador to Russia. In 1937 C. W. Post’s daughter astounded the Russians by arriving in Moscow with twenty refrigerators full of cream and several tons of frozen food to see her through her diplomatic stay. It was then ground up in a home coffee grinder. The result, Dr. Kellogg thought, strikingly resembled Granola. Some kind of circle was completed when the Doctor later brought out Nuttola which the Chicago Vegetarian said “reminds one somewhat of grape-nuts.”

Post’s brown, hard-to-chew granules were christened Grape-Nuts; Grape, because the product contained maltose which Post called grape sugar, and Nuts in honor of the nutty flavor of the new dish. It was in January, 1898, that the new food product, quite close to brown bread in content, but novel in form, a little more nutritious than Graham bread because there was less water in it, made its bow in a small black and tan package, bearing Post’s signature in facsimile. The box was small because the food was “concentrated.”

Grape-Nuts and Postum made an ideal team. They supplemented each other seasonally in sales, and the bran which had to be removed from the wheat in the manufacture of Grape-Nuts was used to make the Postum. Grape-Nuts received a generous infusion of the Post advertising magic. The new cereal food was advertised as an alternative to surgery for an inflamed appendix. It was recommended for consumption, malaria, and loose teeth. It was a special food for the brain.

Post’s abilities present an interesting antithesis to those of Dr. Kellogg. Where the Doctor was diffuse, Post was concentrated. Doctor John was always economizing, resulting in much slow hand work and high costs. Post purchased the best machinery available and made thousands of cases of goods on a few items while the Doctor made a few cases on each of his many.

So far as “truth in advertising” was concerned, Post did not lag behind his time. But he wasn’t ahead of it either. Postum advertising was based upon a sound half-truth: some people slept better, felt better generally, when they stopped drinking coffee, whether they drank any Postum or not. The commercial spirit of the times is pretty accurately expressed in the remark of a Maine storekeeper who said he didn’t see why people told lies when the truth could be just as misleading.

Before Post, much advertising was flippant.

“Why is good advice like Piso’s Cure for Consumption? Because everybody ought to take it!”

But advertising done the Post way was deadly serious. Addressing “highly organized people” (are you highly organized or are you a clod ?), he counseled the reader, and one can almost see him waggling that long forefinger: “Remember, you can recover from any ordinary disease by discontinuing coffee and poor food, and using Postum Food Coffee and Grape-Nuts.”

When Postum was spending about $1,000,000 a year to admonish the sufferers of “coffeedom” that their ills—real, imagined, or advertising-induced—would disappear when they drank baked wheat, makers of similar products quickly appeared on the scene, their hearts also torn by the nervous troubles of the people. To C. W. they were not colleagues in a great health crusade. They were viewed, rather, as “buzzards roosting on the fence”; pirates “commercially seeking my life’s blood.”

Dr. Kellogg watched Charlie Post’s anguish over his imitators with amusement.

“The Sanitarium rejoices,” he said, “that our reformatory ideas … have reached such a point of public esteem as to acquire commercial value.”