The History of Cereal – Who Invented it and Why Do We Add Milk | Who Smarted?

Speaker 1 (00:01):

Hey, kid. What do you like to eat for breakfast? Eggs, bacon, pancakes, waffles, toaster, strudels. Those are all good, but if you’re like me, nothing. Pizza, A nice big heaping bowl of cereal. Sugary, fruity, flaky, frosted, crunchy, chocolatey. Apple, raisin, Brandy, Kellogg, you name it. I love them all. And just as good as the cereal is that big moment at the end when you get to, oh yeah, nothing beats slurping down all that sweet cereal flavored milk that’s left in the bowl. Ah, so good. These days I still enjoy cereal as a quick breakfast, midday munch, or late night snack.

Speaker 2 (00:46):

They’re great.

Speaker 1 (00:48):

But did you ever stop to wonder what is cereal? Who invented it? And why do we pour milk over it? Are you ready to get serious about Serial as we get another whiff of science on

Speaker 2 (01:01):

Who Smarted? Is it you? Is it me? Is it science or history? Listen up everyone. Women morning. Lots of fun on Who Smarted? Silly rabbit kisser Bri. Kids. Just follow me to the ball. Follow my nose.

Speaker 1 (01:28):

Whether you’re young or a little older, cereal may feel like something that’s just always been around, but guess what? It wasn’t, huh? In fact, before cereal, many Americans didn’t even eat breakfast. And if they did, it was usually leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Speaker 2 (01:46):


Speaker 1 (01:48):

Or a combo of greasy pork products and eggs.

Speaker 3 (01:52):

All that bacon and sausage makes me wanna go back to bed.

Speaker 1 (01:57):

So where did the idea for breakfast cereal come from?

Speaker 2 (02:00):

I don’t know.

Speaker 1 (02:00):

Well, it’s kind of a funny story. Back in the 1870s, two brothers ran a health resort in Michigan. People from all over would go there to be treated for all sorts of ailments. Many of them stomach related. The eldest brother figured their problems may be due to what they were eating.

Speaker 4 (John) (02:19):

I think people are eating way too much meat in the morning. It’s too heavy. Perhaps a lighter, healthier diet of grains and vegetables would help my patients feel better.

Speaker 1 (02:27):

So he created a product made of flour, oatmeal, and cornmeal with no sugar added. Yay. That was baked into hard cakes, then smashed into little granules. He called it

Speaker 4 (John) (02:41):


Speaker 1 (02:41):

Oh, and this guy’s name was John

Speaker 4 (John) (02:43):

Kellogg with two G’s

Speaker 1 (02:46):

Kellogg. Where have you heard or seen that name before? Why? Of course, John Kellogg as in Kellogg’s cereal. Ah, you know the company that makes Rice Krispies Fruit Loops, frosted Mini Wheats and Frosted Flakes.

Speaker 5 (03:01):

They’re great,

Speaker 1 (03:03):

Along with countless others. But before two can Sam, there was

Speaker 4 (John) (03:07):


Speaker 1 (03:09):

He served this granola as a medicinal food, plain and dry. And while it might’ve been healthy for you, it was also super boring.

Speaker 5 (03:18):


Speaker 1 (03:20):

People did not love it. However, John’s younger brother Will. Kellogg had a brilliant idea,

Speaker 5 (03:27):

John. Hey John. What if we add milk to the granola to soften it up?

Speaker 4 (John) (03:33):

Milk and cereal. That’s crazy. Talk baby, bro.

Speaker 5 (03:36):

Hear me out. Adding milk will make the granola easier to chew and give the patients much needed calcium and other vitamins.

Speaker 4 (John) (03:44):

Hmm. I like that.

Speaker 1 (03:46):

By adding milk, the sweetness of the oats and grains really popped and the patients began eating it up. Literally.

Speaker 5 (03:54):

Can I have some more?

Speaker 1 (03:55):

While John Kellogg saw people getting healthier, will Kellogg saw the money potential of this breakthrough food?

Speaker 5 (04:02):

John, we can sell this cereal to everyone across the country. We’ll make millions.

Speaker 1 (04:09):

But John was more interested in healthy patients than healthy profits.

Speaker 4 (John) (04:14):

Look, will. I’m not interested in making millions. I’m interested in making my patients healthier. Now, go away. I’m very weird and I don’t like you Older brothers.

Speaker 1 (04:22):

Am I right? And you should know John wasn’t kidding when he said he was weird. He believed so much in a healthy diet that he thought people should go to the bathroom five times a day and analyze it afterwards. And I’m not talking going number one. In fact, John was so proud of his number twos. He often showed them off to visitors and patients, assuming they’d be equally impressed with them.

Speaker 4 (John) (04:47):

Look here. Because of my healthy diet, my bowel movement is firm and non-odorous. Yours will be looking this good in no time. Wait, where’s everyone going?

Speaker 1 (04:57):

Like I said, he was weird. Anyway. Without his big brother’s approval, there wasn’t much will could do with the granola. But the story doesn’t end there. Nope. A short while later, a new patient at the health resort loves the cereal so much that he helps will make it and they become friends. But when he realizes the Kellogg brothers are not going to sell it anywhere, he steals and borrows the recipe and starts his own cereal company. And that’s Sneaky Borrower is named CW Post, and he names the new cereal. He creates grape nuts. Ah, though it contains neither grapes nor nuts, the name is catchy and it tastes pretty good because he added something yummy to it that the Kellogg brothers did not. Can you guess what it is? Hmm? Why? It’s sugar. Of course,

Speaker 4 (John) (05:46):

Sugar is bad for your poop

Speaker 1 (05:49):

Maybe, but it’s delicious for your cereal. Now remember, back in the 1890s, breakfast was not something most Americans enjoyed Each morning, what? It was too time consuming and expensive. But suddenly there was a new food that was pretty cheap and really easy to prepare. Pour into a bowl, add milk, and

Speaker 5 (06:14):


Speaker 1 (06:15):

Everyone in America loved the new product except for Will Kellogg, of course, who was really angry at CW Post for stealing, borrowing his idea.

Speaker 5 (06:25):

I’m gonna get back at that thief one day

Speaker 1 (06:28):

Then one morning will discover a batch of cereal dough. He accidentally left out overnight. In an effort to save this hard dough, he presses it through a roller. And just like that, something brand new is created.

Speaker 5 (06:40):

It’s a flake, a corn flake.

Speaker 1 (06:46):

We’ll immediately showed his brother this new creation.

Speaker 5 (06:49):

If We add a little sugar to this, like posted with his grape nuts, we could make 10 times as much money as him,

Speaker 4 (John) (06:57):

No sugar. It’s not healthy. And don’t forget, I’m weird. I hate anything that tastes good.

Speaker 1 (07:02):

The brothers fought for years over whether to add sugar or not Until Will finally decides he’s had enough. He discovered the Corn Flakes, so he’s going to launch his own cereal called Well,

Speaker 5 (07:15):

Corn Flakes catchy, isn’t it? Sure.

Speaker 1 (07:19):

And while his former friend and now rival CW Post tries to compete, Kellogg’s quickly become the number one brand in America. Once other companies see how popular cereal is, they all jump on the breakfast bandwagon. Quaker creates puffed rice. And when a health clinician in Minnesota accidentally spills a wheat brand mixture onto a hot stove, they create what would become Wheaties for general meals.

Speaker 5 (07:46):


Speaker 6 (07:46):

Is the Breakfast of Champions?

Speaker 1 (07:49):

Not to be outdone. In 1928, Kellogg’s creates a cereal that talks when you add milk. Can you guess what it is? Here’s a hint. Snap, crackle,

Speaker 5 (07:59):


Speaker 1 (08:02):

Why? Of course, it’s Rice Krispies. And while the cereal became pretty popular on its own, it really took off after a Michigan woman discovered a delicious, gooey, chewy treat that you could make with them.

Speaker 5 (08:16):


Speaker 1 (08:17):

More about that and the invention of your other favorite cereals right after this break. Now back to who Smart it. So any idea what Sweet Treat made Rice Krispies much more popular. Why? Of course, it’s the Rice Krispies treat. The yummy, gooey marshmallow goodness has been a favorite in lunchboxes and snack drawers for nearly 80 years. Ooh. And it’s all thanks to a woman named Mildred Day. What are you saying Mrs. Day?

Speaker 7 (Mrs. Day) (08:48):

Let’s See. Now. Back in 1938, I was troop leader for a youth organization called The Campfire Girls. My job was to help raise money for the summer camps. We did pretty well every year selling homemade brownies. That is until those sneaky Girl Scouts came out with their stupid cookies. I’ll

Speaker 8 (09:06):

Take 17 boxes of Samos, please.

Speaker 7 (Mrs. Day) (09:09):

We couldn’t compete with that. So I decided to come up with something new, something fun the kids and parents could make together. I also wanted to support local businesses and Kellogg’s Rice Krispies were made right in our hometown of Battle Creek in Michigan. I grabbed me a box of that talking cereal, added butter and marshmallows and bag them. The Rice Crispy Treat was born. Oh, and we crushed the Girl Scouts at the bake sale that year. Take that thin mince.

Speaker 1 (09:43):

Oh, over the next few decades, the cereal world exploded with the release of Frosted Flakes Cocoa, crispiest Fruit Loops, Rudy Pebbles, captain Crunch, lucky Charms, apple Jacks and Count Cholula, just to name a few between the nonstop bright, colorful commercials, fun mascots, they’re great. And prizes hidden cereal boxes. Cereal became a billion-dollar industry. And do you know what all of those cereals have in common? Um, sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. So much in fact that by the 1980s, the government began to look into how healthy or rather unhealthy cereal had become.

Speaker 9 (10:31):

I wonder if eating lots of sugar in the morning is good for kids. Hmm. Should we go back to meats?

Speaker 1 (10:38):

Eventually, more health conscious consumers began asking for different options for their kids. By the 1990s, more organic and granola based cereals with less added sugar began arriving in grocery stores. So in a way, both Kellogg brothers got their wish, will thought that adding sugar would make cereal popular. And it did. And that’s why Honey Nut Cheerios, cinnamon Toast Crunch and Frosted Flakes are some of the most popular cereals around. Like I said, sugar equals

Speaker 8 (11:09):


Speaker 1 (11:11):

However, while that might be true, the most popular cereal in America is actually regular Cheerios, which is marketed as a heart healthy gluten-free non GMO, low sugar cholesterol, improving breakfast.

Speaker 8 (11:28):

Oh hmm. Okay. Yeah, that’s good I guess.

Speaker 1 (11:31):

And the whole grain vitamin enriched Kellogg Special K is also among the top 10 cereals. Ah, meaning John Kellogg’s vision of a healthy grain style cereal also came true.

Speaker 8 (11:42):

Ha ha.

Speaker 1 (11:44):

But no matter whether you prefer healthier

Speaker 10 (11:47):

Kicks, kid tested, mother approved,

Speaker 1 (11:50):

Or sugary cereal, cookies

Speaker 2 (11:52):

For breakfast, deep

Speaker 1 (11:55):

Risk, one thing we can all agree on, you got to slurp the milk.

Speaker 1 (12:01):

Big shout out to Aiden and Evan in Richardson, Texas. Thanks for listening to Who Smarted. Every Morning. This episode Serial was written by Jason Williams and voiced by Jason Williams, Sheffield Chastain, Jenna Hoen, GIA Davis, Adam Tex Davis, max Kaki, and Jerry Colbert. Additional voices, technical direction and sound design by Josh Hanh, Who Smarted is recorded and mixed at the Relic Room Studios. Our associate producer is Max Kaki. The theme song is by Brian Suarez. Lyrics are written and performed by Adam Tex Davis, who Smarted was created and produced by Adam Tex Davis and Jerry Colbert. This is an atomic entertainment production of Who Smarted?