How Corn Flakes Conquered The Breakfast Table
Image Credit: Cornflakes/ Pic- Unsplash

Like all the classic American tales, the story of how cereals came to be the serial winners of the breakfast table, is the one that combines utility, internecine Biblical fights between brothers, religion, and puritanical desires to control one’s sexual drive.

The breakfast cereal can be credited to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a Seventh-Day Adventist health and wellness rest centre in Michigan. Kellogg was a staunch vegetarian and is credited with inventing corn flakes after some dough turned stale and they tried to bake it. Now Dr. Kellogg was obsessed with providing a vegetarian regimen to people accustomed to a heavy breakfast of ham, eggs, sausages, and fried potatoes.

An early ad for Corn Flakes

Another person who played a role in the great cereal war was CW Post, a former patient who was quite impressed with the grain experimentation and found his own company, which sold Postum, a cereal beverage to save us from the “evils of caffeine”. 

The Postum became popular during World War II in America when coffee was rationed. However, it was CW Post’s Grape Nuts (which contained neither grapes nor nuts) that became more popular in the mass market and promised to help kick alcoholism.

Eventually, the Kelloggs brothers disagreed on the ingredients and the branding. Will Kellogg disagreed over the appeals of the health benefits and wanted to add sugar to the recipe, while his brother found the idea obnoxious.

By 1906 – interestingly, a year after a Swiss patent clerk published four papers that changed how we understand the universe – Will Kellogg won the rights to the Kellogg's name from his brother. In fact, it’s his signature that adorned Kellogg's boxes for the longest time.

And William fought hard to promote the cereal. A piece notes: “In the early days, W.K. Kellogg beat the drum himself – or rather monitored his drummers. He reviewed the incoming and outgoing telegrams in the sales department, then scribbled notes like, “Why wasn’t this done?” He popped up in the most unlikely spots – including the proverbial “greasy spoon” diner – in search of his cereals. His obsession kept sales reps on their toes and brought Kellogg’s products to every corner of the U.S.”

Post World War II, cereal became a favourite of the American breakfast table amid the baby boom. In the end, utility and taste won over health benefits, and the corn flakes became America’s favourite breakfast. So, how did Kellogg’s breakthrough in India? That’s a story for another time.