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C. W. Post

inventor of Postum, Grape Nuts, and Post Toasties

C.W. Post

Charles William Post was born in Springfield, Illinois, on October 26, 1854. His father, Charles Rollin Post, was an itinerant laborer and entrepreneur who pursued a wide variety of occupations across the country, including a stint as a "Forty-Niner" during the California Gold Rush; his mother, Caroline Cushman Lathrop Post, had had several poems in magazines. C.W., as he always called himself, inherited both his father's itinerant spirit and his mother's creative mind, but it would take many years for the two traits to come together in just the right proportion to propel him to success.

After graduating from the Springfield public schools, Post entered Illinois Industrial College (now the University of Illinois), but dropped out after two years. In 1871, he borrowed $500 from his mother and travelled to Independence, Kansas, where he opened a general store. He sold his interest in the store for a minimal profit within a year, and was back in Springfield by 1872. He next tried his hand at being a travelling salesman, and then at designing and manufacturing agricultural implements. On November 4, 1874, he married Ella Letitia Merriweather; the couple had one child, Marjorie Merriwether Post.

In November of 1885, Post suffered a nervous breakdown, brought on by years of hard work and financial instability. The next year, he left his family in Springfield and moved to Texas, where he got involved in a residential real estate development project on the outskirts of Fort Worth. In 1888, he purchased a 200-acre ranch and began laying out his own subdivision. The failure of this venture caused a second nervous breakdown, and, in 1891, Post moved his family to Battle Creek, Michigan, where he sought treatment at the Battle Creek Sanitorium, a widely touted health spa directed by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.

At the Sanitorium, Post was subjected to a number of unusual regimens, including Kellogg's grain-intensive vegetarian diet. Feeling no better after nine months of treatment, Post left the Sanitorium and sought out a Christian Science practitioner, who prescribed an all-natural (but not strictly vegetarian) diet and positive mental suggestion. Within a few days of beginning this new treatment, Post declared that he felt much better. Sensing that were great marketing opportunities in such an approach, Post subsequently published I Am Well!, the Modern Practice of Natural Suggestion, in which he touted the power of one's own mind to promote health, and opened his own clinic, La Vita Inn, in Battle Creek. He also began experimenting with ways to prepare more palatable health foods, the first result of which was Postum Food Coffee, a bran, wheat, and molasses-based no-caffeine coffee substitute introduced in 1895. Although Post's health clinic ultimately failed, his Postum was an almost instant success. In 1897, he introduced Grape-Nuts, a "scientific" cereal mix that contained neither grapes nor nuts, which also enjoyed almost immediate success. His entry into the cornflakes market came with "Elijah's Manna" in 1904 (it was renamed Post Toasties in 1908).

Post marketed his products with some of the most persuasive advertising ever devised, with virtually every ad proclaiming the virtues of a lifestyle based on natural foods and a positive mind. He even published "The Road to Wellsville," a prescriptive pamphlet that explained how to maximize health by consuming Post products, and "thoughtfully" enclosed a copy in every package.

typical Postum ad

Post's products quickly made him a multi-millionaire, but that same success also made him restless, so he hired a team of professional managers to operate his company and turned his attention to other interests. In 1902, he began promoting "Post Checks," a postal currency similar to modern money orders. His attempt to garner Congressional support for his plan was thwarted by New York Senator Thomas C. Platt, whose U.S. Express Company already sold a type of postal currency. He was also thwarted by small-town merchants, who were afraid that the "checks" would increase mail-order sales and, therefore, hurt them. Not wishing to upset the very people he counted on to stock his products, he soon abandoned the project.

An ardent opponent of labor unions, Post founded Citizens' Industrial Association, dedicated to having "the rights of property protected and legislation of a Socialistic nature prevented from being enacted into law," in 1903.

In 1904, after years of separation, C.W. and Letitia Post divorced. On November 7 of that same year, C.W. married his secretary, Leila Young.

In 1906, Post purchased some 225,000 acres of ranchland in Texas and designated a site as the location of his new town, which he expected to become the seat of Garza County. In 1907, Post City, as it was called until after the developer's death, was platted, farms of 160 acres were laid out, shade trees were planted, and a machine shop, a hotel, a school, churches, and a department store were constructed. Unlike his previous real estate venture, this one was successful; Post City did indeed become the seat of Garza County, and is still a thriving community today.

Having succeeded with Post City, Post next tried various forms of automatic machinery in developing dry-land farming techniques and introduced varieties of grain sorghums such as milo and kafir. One of his most spectacular experiments was the use of dynamite explosions to draw rain. Between 1911 and 1914, he spent thousands of dollars in this endeavor, which met with little success.

Although Post lived the healthy lifestyle he "preached" and advertised, he never fully recovered physically from his earlier mental breakdowns. Failing health, combined with an unhappy marriage, led to him committing suicide in his Santa Barbara, California, home on May 9, 1914; he was buried in Battle Creek's Oak Hill Cemetery.

Majorie Merriwether Post became the sole owner of Postum Ltd. upon her father's death. With guidance from her second husband, stockbroker, Edward F. Hutton, the company aggressively acquired other grocery brands, beginning with Jell-O in 1923, and became the General Foods Corporation in 1929.

Discovering America's Past: Customs, Legends, History, and Lore of Our Great Nation. Pleasantville, NY:Reader's Digest Association, 1993.

California Gold Rush

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This page was last updated on September 24, 2017.