- Historic Sites
A history of the food reformers and cereal kings who made Battle Creek the center of a revolution in Americans eating habits
June 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 4
Of Post’s corn flakes, first called Elijah’s Manna, it may be said that they were the first modern type of corn flake to become popular on a large scale. There were also physical differences which a technician would consider important. The Post flakes were thicker than others, with bubbles on them which were said to cause the flakes to stay crisp longer in milk or cream. The Elijah’s Manna carton was green and white, the color scheme of the Postum plant. The package front carried a picture of the prophet, Elijah, seated on a rock in the wilderness, with a raven on his shoulder, scattering the manna which was supposed to have supported the Israelites.
Post was perplexed when a howl went up in the Bible belt over his new trade name, dismayed when he learned that it was against the law in Britain to register Biblical names for commercial purposes. So, in 1908, Elijah’s Manna became Post Toasties, packaged in yellow and red cartons, cheered up with a picture on the front of a young miss warming herself in front of an open fire with a bowl of corn flakes in her lap.
Possibly no man starting out absolutely from scratch ever made more money in a shorter time out of a legitimate business than did C. W. Post—a New Thoughter in 1895, a multimillionaire seven years later. The World Almanac put in several months around 1901-2, compiling and checking a list of American millionaires. Battle Creek got two into the league with Edwin C. Nichols and David Shepard, proprietors of threshing machine fortunes; but Post’s name did not appear, although his fortune was estimated at $10,000,000 in 1903. Events had moved too fast for the almanac people to catch up with the cash flow at the Postum works.
Battle Creek watched Post’s comings and goings with pride and also with a lively sense of favors to come. His spectacular career made real and actual what benign, paunchy Russell H. Conwell said thousands of times on the lecture platform in his parable of success, “Acres of Diamonds”: that it was a sin to be poor when it was so easy to be rich. The great opportunities in life lie near at hand. Learn taxidermy. Get up a collar button. Raise trout. Invent a wooden toy. Read System Magazine . Be a good talker. Train your memory by the Pelman System. Find a need and fill it. That’s what C. W. Post did. The richer man was the better man, and Post was the richest of all in Calhoun County, Michigan.
For a while it seemed as though Battle Creek might become a one-man town. But a good many people were determined to share in the grain-given fortunes of the inventor of Postum. It looked easy. Drug clerks and invalids, interns and preachers, the men usually found leaning against the sunny side of the depot, all started to think up names which sounded just as good as Postum and Grape-Nuts. In reverie, they saw themselves riding in Locomobiles, with a footman to open the tonneau door and put on the side curtains, their wives rivaling Mrs. Post with rows of diamond rings over their long, gray suede gloves.
Post’s career was one of the most colorful which lay between the days of the railroad builders and the automobile tycoons. The frontier was gone. The supply of free land was exhausted. But C. W. Post’s career proved that the new industrial age offered opportunities of a different sort. With his sure touch on popular psychology, Post might have become a Dowie or a Mrs. Eddy. But he chose the manufacture of breakfast foods as his métier and found in advertising an outlet for his mesmeric talents. After his death, Postum was united with the Jell-O Company in the first of a series of mergers and purchases which led to the development of today’s great General Foods Corporation.
While C. W. Post was riding high, Will Kellogg continued to be Dr. Kellogg’s faithful drudge. He did the shirt-sleeve work, weighed in the local wheat at the Sanitas wagon scales, carried out the dead from the San in the gloaming, and answered the mail. The younger Kellogg saw all too clearly what was going to happen to the last and the greatest of the ready-to-eat cereal foods. It too, like the coffee substitute and the wheat flakes, was going to slip through Dr. Kellogg’s hands; and many a time he gave the Doctor a wigging over the future of corn flakes.
Already under fire in orthodox medical circles for his attachment to massage and hydropathic methods, Dr. Kellogg froze right up every time W. K. broached the subject of commercializing corn flakes. The situation dragged along in an atmosphere of brotherly incompatibility. Sometimes there were quarrels. Sometimes there was a truce, and sometimes the two Kelloggs wouldn’t even speak to each other. In 1905, Charles D. Bolin, a St. Louis insurance man, came to the San as a patient, saw the corn flakes and caught the vision. He urged W. K. to start a company for their manufacture. It was clear enough then that the Doctor was unwilling to undertake an operation on the scale that was being proposed.