Kellogg's breakfast cereal in store
Seeking a healthier breakfast diet, it was a Christian fundamentalist who invented America’s first ready-to-eat grain-based breakfast product. Modern cereal eventually followed.

You can thank your lucky stars for Christian fundamentalists every morning when you down that big bowl of breakfast cereal — or at least thank them for giving you your Lucky Charms. It’s true. Back in the early 19th Century, when most people ate pork chops for breakfast (and washed them down with whiskey and coffee), Christian fundamentalists decided that this was hell on a person’s soul as well as on his or her bowels. They went so far as to preach that constipation was God’s punishment for eating meat.

In 1863, one such fundamentalist, Dr. James Jackson, decided to do more than just preach. He invented Granula, America’s first, and for a while only, ready-to-eat grain-based breakfast product. Never mind that Granula “bricks” were as hard as real bricks. Determined Christian fundamentalists chowed down on them, hoping to clean both their consciences and their bowels.

Enter Dr. John Kellogg

Ultimately Granula failed to catch on in the mass market. But not before catching the attention of Dr. John Kellogg, a surgeon and health guru who ran the upscale Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan where the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, and other rich families flocked for treatment. True to its founder’s nutritional outlook, “The San” served bran biscuits for breakfast that were suspiciously similar to Dr. Jackson’s Granula bricks. Only here they were called Kellogg’s Granola. (Note that Kellogg changed one letter of Jackson’s product name, thereby avoiding a lawsuit.)

By 1889, two tons of Granola was flying off the shelves of The San’s store, even though the product was still virtually inedible. John Kellogg and his brother W.K. decided to come up with a more palatable, but still healthy, breakfast product. Believe it or not, it was a kitchen mishap that resulted in America’s first cereal flakes.

Advent of Advertising

The Kellogg brothers discovered that cereal flakes were the perfect consumer product: easy to produce, easy to sell, and outstandingly lucrative. Even today, breakfast cereals carry a 50% profit margin!

Interlopers soon appeared, most notably Charles Post. Having failed as a suspender salesman, he moved to Battle Creek in 1895 and started selling knock-off Kellogg products. But he added a new twist: advertising. For his initial Grape-Nuts product, he published pamphlets like “The Road to Wellville,” claiming that Grape-Nuts would cure appendicitis, make a person’s “red blood redder,” and even improve IQ. Grape-Nuts were netting Post $1 million annually by 1903.

What could the Kellogg brothers do to stop their own dwindling profits? Start advertising themselves, of course. In Kellogg’s first national print campaign, the company took unknowing advantage of the innocence of the time by instructing women to: “Wink at your grocer, and see what you get.” The pure-as-snow Victorian answer: a free box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes!

The success of Post and Kellogg were so astounding that aspiring cereal barons descended on Battle Creek in droves. By 1911, companies headquartered there were producing 107 brands of corn flakes alone. But the cereals had little substantive differences. Now what?

Rethinking the Cereal Box

To make their own product(s) stand out from the competition, cereal producers started focusing on the outside of the cereal boxes rather than on the products inside them. One company called its cornflakes University Brand Daintily Crisped Flaked Corn. Another created a mascot, Sunny Jim, for its Force cereal. Sunny Jim was a cartoon gentleman who wore a top hat while strutting across the Force box. He and his cereal brand achieved such success that other companies had to create mascots for themselves.

Post once again led the way. During the Great Depression, Post Toasties hired none other than Walt Disney to create the cartoon animals on its cereal boxes. He used his Post earnings to build his world-famous Disney empire, including Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida.

From Christian Fundamentalism to Pure Capitalism

By now, breakfast cereal had nothing to do with Christian fundamentalism and everything to do with the cereal companies’ mad rush to market their increasingly sugary products to American kids. With the advent of television, iconic characters like Howdy Doody, Dick Tracy, the Lone Ranger, Yogi Bear, and the Beverly Hillbillies characters regularly interrupted their episode of the week to turn to the camera and hawk the cereal product(s) of one company or another. Even today, cereal represents the second-largest TV advertiser, outspent only by the automobile industry.

Despite the fact that cereal has come a long way, baby, you still might want to send up a thank you to Dr. James Jackson. Without him and his fundamentalist beliefs, you and your kids could still be eating pork chops for breakfast.

14 comments

  1. JASON D BENDER says:

    Yep… One more reason why Christian Conservatives suck to add to the already quite huge list of reasons why Christian Conservatives suck* (*and, not in the good way!)

  2. William Waugh says:

    My takeaway from this is, that the histories we are taught in school are configured to look like common sense logical progressions that presume public awareness is high across the board. The ugly truth is the masses are, even still today, as ignorant as the masses that lived the so called dark ages. ……pork chops, whiskey and coffee sounds like something out of the civil war era, not during the run up to the world wars. Then again, was’nt a defining aspect of the “dark ages”, that the bible was the only education and was guarded, interpreted and dispersed by the clergy? Prior to the crusades, was’nt trade, mathematics and sciences highly developed? So, no, I’m not going to go out of my way to thank Christians for breakfast. I’m sure that folks along the “silk” road of trade thru the middle east to europe enjoyed breakfasts superior to porkchops, whiskey and coffee. Which, by the way, is likely still a staple for folks in places like Kentucky. I know that coffee with bourbon is affectionately known as Kentucky coffee!

    1. Carl Elfstrom says:

      I lived in Lexington Kentucky for four years, and never heard of anyone putting whiskey in coffee. I hung -out in two coffee houses while there, TheHoney Bean, and Coffee Times that didn’t sell alcoholic beverages. Coffee Times did sell quite a variety of cheesecakes though, and I did get fatter while living there. When not eating breakfast there I often ate it at Mc Donald’s, and my favorite breakfast was steak and cheese on a bagel. Although bourbon is from Kentucky, and is a process of running whiskey over limestone which gives it a distinct flavor, I never noticed more people drinking it there than anywhere else. However, Lexington is the home of the Ruth Hunt Candy Company, which among other things makes bourbon balls. And they are truly to die for! The best part about it is they even sell them at http://www.amazon.com now. I’m glad you reminded me. I think I’ll add some to my monthly Amazon grocery shopping cart. Bon appetite, as we say in Kentucky.

    2. Carl Elfstrom says:

      My step grandparents owned three Dixie Cream Donut Shops in Lexington, and they didn’t sell pork chops or whiskey. Although, in addition to fifty something kinds of donuts, they also sold whole Virginia hams. They have many restaurants in Lexington, where more than 300,000 people live within a twelve mile radius. It’s a college town, and at least twenty percent of the population at least have bachelor degrees. Don’t forget, this isn’t the nineteenth century. Rural people have come a long way.

      1. Carl Elfstrom says:

        I go through a twenty eight ounce box of Quaker Simply Granola every week, with coconut or almond milk, and never give any thought to who or what made it, but do get a laugh out of the picture on the box of a silly looking old Quaker. Just saying.

      2. Kim says:

        One thing I simply cannot stand is a hillbilly.

  3. Lionheart says:

    I’m sure we have a lot to thank people of all religions, and no religion, for what we have today.

    🦁❤️

  4. kimberly says:

    That’s wrong. Dry cereal was invented to feed retards in institutions. I know because I used to live in Battle Creek and my spouse worked for Kellogg’s at a very high level. I used to be brought some interesting prototype breakfast foods. Some were quite good (weird flavored poptarts) but some I just threw out. I always enjoyed the malt smell driving through town though. And, Battle Creek is mid-distance between Detroit and Chicago. My favorite memories of Battle Creek were of chipmunking hunting, I’d load up my 22 magnum with shot shells and walk through the woods doing quick-draw from under my mumu dress at the chipmunks that dared to cross my waddling trek. Chipmunks don’t taste much like porkchops but I hate to waste good meat.

  5. Rod Gesner says:

    Gee, I always thought it was Quakers… Actually Swiss/German muesli has been around in local forms for generations and much better than any Processed USA Crap..the Main Difference between a True Farm Breakfast and Quick Foods we eat now days; is That Farm Folk had a Multi course meal; Usually after the animals were fed. perhaps Coffee and a Quick snack (Plenty of Farm Kids Probly Snacked on Sweet cattle feed Grain mix 😉 on their way out to feed and milk Then.2,-3,000 Calories (Meat/eggs, Gravy,vegies, Pies) To get them through the Day with a Lighter lunch; Bagged or Basket if they were Too far to return; Then Larger dinner after the Eve feeding Etc.. The breakfast Cereals we have today are Products of industry; both as long shelf life processed food; and to Serve The Hurry up and Get to Work Sweatshops of the Day… Ya; We can Thank the Fundamentalists and Evilangelists for That…
    Translating Good Foods into Wasshedout Tasteless PAP Then Add Sugar … Just like They Want To Do To Our LIVES…

  6. Aperson says:

    Um… that same “doctor” kellogg encouraged genital muilation based on nonsense and, in regards to boys, Americans continue to follow his nonsense to this day

    1. Kim says:

      Circumcision has many benefits.

      1. Lionheart says:

        Are you referring to the average death rate of 229 each year from the unnecessary practice of circumcision?

        http://www.cirp.org/library/death/

        🦁♥️

        1. Kim says:

          I didn’t say it was without risk. And yes…any surgical procedure has risk.

  7. Mark DeFillo says:

    I would respectfully suggest that an interfaith church such as ours should be careful to use denominational labels (and other religious technical terms) accurately. In this case, the use of “Fundamentalism” is questionable here. Fundamentalism is by definition a movement that follows a body of interpretation of Christian teaching given in a collection of writings called the “Fundamentals”, which were written AFTER the events described here. The writers were primarily reactionary Presbyterians who objected to the direction their denomination was going; and it was soon embraced by many among the Baptists and other types of evangelical Protestants. The Fundamentals are posted online, as I found when researching a few years ago.

    I haven’t yet found any information at all on Mr. Jackson’s denomination if any; Mr. Kellogg was a prominent Seventh Day Adventist. The SDA church is definitely not Fundamentalist, as some of their teachings are quite different. Even in the loosest, lowercase, uses of “fundamentalist” I would hesitate to apply it to them; the word has negative connotations of which I’ve never seen any sign in that church.

    In general, I would strongly recommend against ULC writers using the loose senses of fundamentalist, because it frequently creates confusion, is often a slander, and furthermore, like them or not, it obscures the identity and distinctiveness of the actual Fundamentalist movement. Just as it be wrong if people in general started calling all interfaith ministries and denominations “universal lifers” or something like that.

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