Charles W. (“C.W.”) Post was born this day in 1854. In 1895, he would found Postum Cereals – later known as Post Cereals – in Battle Creek.
Post grew up in Springfield, Ill., where he worked as a salesman and manufacturer of agricultural machinery. He invented many implements, including a plow, a harrow and a hay stacking machine. The stress of running his business lead to a mental breakdown in November 1885. Following the breakdown, Post tried his hand at land prospecting in Texas, which lead to a second breakdown in 1891.
A search for a cure to his recurring troubles took Post to Battle Creek, where John Harvey Kellogg was operating the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Kellogg’s brother, W.K. Kellogg, worked as a bookkeeper for the sanitarium, and made flaked cereal for visitors. While W.K. wanted to keep the process of flake-making secret, John Harvey instead shared the process with interested visitors.
Post was among the interested visitors. Not only seeing a potential health value to the food, Post realized a business opportunity, too. He founded the Postum Cereal Co. in 1895. The first product was a Postum “cereal beverage.” A more enduring product, Post Grape-Nuts, was rolled out in 1897, followed by Post Toasties in 1908.
Like the Kellogg brothers, Post claimed his cereals had healing properties, and advertised that Grape-Nuts could cure appendicitis. When Collier’s Weekly magazine challenged the claims, Post questioned the mental capacity of the article’s author. The magazine sued for libel and won a $50,000 claim against Post.
It’s ironic, then, that Post believed himself to be suffering from appendicitis in 1914. He made his way from his home in California to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, seeking relief from the best surgeons of his day. They deemed him inoperable and turned him away. On May 9, 1914, still enduring stomach pain and despondent, Post ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot. His only child, Marjorie Merriweather Post, inherited his company and fortune, blending it with the fortune of financier E.F. Hutton, whom she married in 1920.