Today is the birthday (1854) of Charles William Post, commonly known as “C. W.”, who helped developed the breakfast cereal industry, at first alongside the Kelloggs in Battle Creek, Michigan, and later as their competition. I don’t know what it is about breakfast cereal magnates, but both Post and the Kelloggs had quirky ideas about health and fitness, and were certainly not men I would have wanted as friends given their personal values. (I also detest breakfast cereal, but not for that reason). Post was born in Springfield, Illinois, and graduated from the public schools of Springfield. He enrolled at Illinois Industrial University (known today as the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign), where he remained two years before leaving without a degree.
After a brief stay in Independence, Kansas, Post returned to Springfield, where he remained for over a decade working as a salesman and manufacturer of agricultural machinery. During this interval Post invented and patented several farm implements, including a plough, a harrow, and a hay-stacking machine. In November 1874, Post married Ella Letitia Merriweather; they had one daughter. Ella supported her husband throughout his career and cared for him when he was ill. As Post became wealthier and began spending more time away from Ella, who was often ill, he slowly drifted away from her. Against her wishes, Post separated from her in 1904 and married his second wife, Leila Young, his secretary, in November 1904. Post’s daughter, who remained close to her father, later said that her mother died of “a broken heart” after Post divorced her and married his secretary.
Post suffered a breakdown in November 1885, the result of the stress and overwork of working as a farm implement manufacturer. Post made a break with his previous life, moving to Texas in 1886, where he came into association with a group of real estate developers in Fort Worth, who were attempting to establish a new community on the eastern outskirts of a town called Riverside. In 1888, Post began a real estate development of his own in Fort Worth on 200 acres (81 ha) that he had obtained, platting the land for streets and homes and constructing two mills. The stress of this work again proved too much for Post’s constitution, and a second breakdown followed in 1891. Post began a period of extensive travels in search of a cure, coming to take particular interest in the chemistry of digestion. After a period traversing Europe, Post visited the Battle Creek Sanitarium of Battle Creek, Michigan, operated by John Harvey Kellogg. He was inspired to start his own company based upon the dietary products used there.
In 1895, Post founded Postum Cereal Co., with his first product, Postum cereal beverage. Post’s first breakfast cereal premiered in 1897, and he named the product Grape-Nuts cereal because of the fruity aroma noticed during the manufacturing process and the nutty crunch of the finished product. In 1904, he followed up the Grape Nuts label with a brand of corn flakes, which was first called Elijah’s Manna before being renamed Post Toasties in 1908.
In 1906, Post invested some of his substantial earnings from his food products manufacturing into Texas real estate, purchasing a massive 225,000-acre (91,000 ha) tract in Garza and Lynn Counties. Post platted a new town, which he called Post City. Shade trees were planted, farm parcels laid out, and a hotel, school, churches, and a department store were constructed for the new Garza County seat.
In 1907 Collier’s Weekly published an article questioning the claim made in advertisements for Grape Nuts that it could cure appendicitis. Post responded with advertisements questioning the mental capacity of the article’s author, and Collier’s Weekly sued for libel. The case was heard in 1910, and Post was fined $50,000. The decision was overturned on appeal, but advertisements for Postum products stopped making such claims.
Post was a staunch opponent of the trade union movement and was remembered by the National Association of Manufacturers as one who “opposed bitterly boycotts, strikes, lockouts, picketing and other forms of coercion in the relations between employer and employee.” Post was also a leading public advocate of the open shop system.
At the end of 1913, the chronically ill Post’s health deteriorated to the point that he canceled public appearances, which prompted speculation in the press regarding his well-being. In early March 1914, Post was believed to be suffering from appendicitis and was rushed via a nonstop train from California to Rochester, Minnesota to be operated on by Dr. William and Charles Mayo, regarded as the preeminent surgeons of the day. Upon examination the Mayo brothers deemed Post to be inoperable, however, and he returned home to Santa Barbara without surgical remedy, still plagued by stomach pain. On May 9, 1914, despondent over his ongoing stomach illness, Post took his own life with a single gunshot.
Post cereals now include Honey Bunches of Oats, Pebbles, Great Grains, Post Shredded Wheat, Post Raisin Bran, Grape-Nuts, Honeycomb, Frosted Mini Spooners, Golden Puffs, Oh’s, Cinnamon Toasters, Fruity Dyno-Bites, Cocoa Dyno-Bites, Berry Colossal Crunch and Malt-O-Meal hot wheat cereal. If they are your thing, have a bowl to celebrate C.W. or go to the Post website for some recipe ideas: https://www.postconsumerbrands.com/recipes/ Here’s a video featuring one such idea:
I am not being paid to promote Post cereals, and don’t want to be. My blog posts are free for everyone, and I don’t receive anything for writing and posting them. I am also free to say that you won’t catch me eating any of these cereals or making these recipes.