Cereal’s journey to becoming what it is today is long, sometimes confusing and often conflicting. Here are a few highlights from the years:
Dark ages — For a long time in human history, the wonders of cold cereal from a box are not known or enjoyed. Whether happiness exists during this period of unenlightenment is a mystery.
1863 – Dr. James Caleb Jackson, the founder of Jackson Sanitorium in New York, invents “granula,” which is made from dried graham flour dough. It is tasteless and so hard that it must be soaked overnight before it can be consumed.
1876 – Dr. John H. Kellogg is hired to oversee what will become the Battle Creek Sanitarium, in Battle Creek, Mich. His brother William assists him in bookkeeping and other tasks. He is hired by Ellen G. White, the founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and a former patient at the Jackson Sanitorium. He soon begins to experiment with grain-based breakfast foods, creating a similar product to Jackson’s — he even calls it “granula.”
1881 – A lawsuit forces the Kellogg brothers to stop calling their product “granula” — so they name it “granola.” This wheat, oat and corn-based cereal is formed into a dough, baked and then broken into crumbs. By 1889, the Battle Creek Sanitarium is selling 2 tons of granola each week.
1894 – The Kellogg family invents the process by which flaked cereal can be made. A patent for the process is filed in 1895 and granted in 1896. The Kellogg brothers soon begin selling Granose Flakes, the first flaked grain cereal, which is made of wheat. They later formulate a recipe for corn flakes.
1895 – C.W. Post, a former patient at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, founds his own company in Battle Creek, Mich., and sells a product called Postum, a breakfast cereal beverage. In 1897 he invents Grape Nuts. His products are heavily advertised with wildly inaccurate health claims.
1902 – Sunny Jim becomes the first cereal mascot. He appears on boxes of Force wheat flakes and soon becomes a nationally known fictional character. Other cereal companies quickly follow suit.
1904 – C.W. Post produces corn flakes under the name Elijah’s Manna. Religious groups protest, so he changes the name to Post Toasties in 1908. The Kellogg brothers accuse him of stealing the corn flakes recipe from their safe.
1905 – The first puffed rice cereal is produced by Quaker Oats. The method, which involves shooting grains of rice from a cannon, was invented by Alexander P. Anderson. The cereal markets itself as “food shot from guns” and “the 8th wonder of the world.”
1906 – William K. Kellogg leaves the Battle Creek Sanitarium with the rights to produce the corn flakes. He desires to advertise products and sweeten the corn flakes with a little bit of sugar. John is opposed to both ideas so William founds his own company and sells the slightly sweetened Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
1909 – Kellogg’s Corn Flakes introduces the first cereal box prize for kids as part of an advertising campaign.
1911 – Because of their popularity and high profit margin, around 100 brands of corn flakes are produced in the Battle Creek., Mich. area.
1934 – Post Toasties pays Walt Disney $1.5 million for the rights to use Mickey Mouse and other Walt Disney characters on their cereal boxes for one year. Some say Disney used the money to build his film empire.
1939 – Ranger Joe Popped Wheat Honnies become the first pre-sugared cereal. At this time most cereals are unsweetened; people at home added sugar according to their tastes. The pre-sweetened cereal was said to be aimed at keeping people from adding excess sugar.
1941 – Snap, Crackle and Pop appear for the first time together on a box of Rice Krispies. They were created in 1933, but originally appeared only on ads and in posters.
1949 – Sugar Crisp becomes first cereal to have an animated TV commercial, featuring three bears: Handy, Dandy and Candy. The cereal was later renamed Golden Crisp.
1950s – Trix, Frosted Flakes, Corn Pops and other sugar cereals that still dominate the market appear.
1960s – Breakfast cereal is so heavily marketed to kids that the Federal Trade Commission steps in to establish new laws.
1970s – Rising concerns about health and excess sugar consumption cause cereal producers to create more health-oriented products and emphasize nutritional value over flavor.
1996 – Cereal consumption peaks and has declined ever since.
For a pdf version of this story as it appeared in print click here: A Sinister Cereal Timeline