Post, William Charles
POST, WILLIAM CHARLES
Charles William Post (1854–1914) was a trailblazer in the manufacture and marketing of breakfast cereal products. During the early twentieth century he used his wealth to influence a variety of campaigns that held his interest, including anti-union activism.
Charles William "C.W." Post was born on October 26, 1854 in Springfield, Illinois, the son of Charles Rollin and Caroline Lathrop Post. His mother was a poet whose work was published in magazines, and his father, who joined the California gold rush as a forty-niner, held a variety of jobs and finally settled as a grain and farm equipment dealer.
Post, who preferred to be called "C.W.," was educated in public schools and briefly attended the Illinois Industrial College (later to become the University of Illinois), but he dropped out at age 15. He worked for his father's business before moving to Chicago to work as a salesman for a farm equipment firm. In 1876 he returned home, borrowed $500 from his mother, and opened a general store in Independence, Kansas. Less than a year later Post sold his store and again returned to Springfield. He married Ella Merriweather, and in 1880 established the Springfield Plow Works, a business engaged in the design and manufacture of farm equipment. After four years, both the business and Post's emotional health failed. He spent recuperation time in Texas, where he became interested in real estate, specifically near Fort Worth. By 1891 Post was so ill that he was confined to a wheelchair. He sought help at a well-known sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, run by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. At the sanitarium Post was fed Dr. Kellogg's high-grain vegetarian diet that consisted of natural food and beverage products.
Post recovered his health at the sanitarium after only a few months, and remained in Battle Creek to open the La Vita Inn, an institute for healing through mental suggestion. He published I Am Well!, a book promoting the fashionable belief that the mind could cure physical ailments; the institute, however, never achieved real success.
In 1895 Post formulated a cereal beverage coffee substitute based on a drink similar to one he was served at Kellogg's sanitarium. Post named his beverage Postum. The following year he began to manufacture Grape Nuts, a cereal based on another Kellogg product. With only $50,000 in capital, Post incorporated his company in 1896 under the name Postum, Ltd. Over the next few years he introduced several products, including a corn flakes product he called Post Toasties, followed by other cereals: Post's Bran Flakes, Instant Postum, and Post's Wheat Meal.
Post saw advertising as the most crucial part of his business. Through ads in newspapers and magazines that Post wrote himself, the company achieved nationwide distribution by the early 1900s. Post's marketing strategies appealed to consumers' health concerns by claiming that Postum products would put them on the "road to Wellville" by strengthening "red blood."
The success of his company made Post a millionaire. Five years after its establishment, Postum Ltd.'s capital had risen to $5 million. Post's business, which began in a barn, now employed 2,500 people in factories that covered 20 acres of his Battle Creek farm. It was the largest plant of its kind in the world. Post nonetheless grew bored with his company, hired a team of professional managers to oversee its operation, and used his newfound wealth to turn his attentions elsewhere.
In 1902 Post designed a type of mail currency he called the "Post Check," which was similar to contemporary money orders. He met strong opposition in his attempt to get congressional support for the Post Check. The greatest objection came from New York Senator Thomas C. Platt, president of the U.S. Express Company, which sold its own form of postal currency. The Post Check also upset small merchants, who feared the new currency would promote mail-order business. Realizing that these merchants carried his cereal products, Post eventually gave up on the Post Check.
Shortly after, Post began purchasing what would total more than 200,000 acres of land in western Texas. He built a community called Post City, which ultimately suffered from the region's arid climate. To combat drought, Post had large amounts of dynamite set off in several experiments to blast rain out of the sky.
Throughout this time Post was a dedicated leader of entrepreneurs against labor unions. He lectured throughout the country and published full-page anti-union denunciations in several newspapers. He even established a magazine called Square Deal to disseminate his labor views. Labor unions responded by organizing boycotts against Post's cereal products. To prevent unions in his own factory, Post paid the highest wages in the industry, gave bonuses, and provided welfare, accident, and health benefits. He also had model homes built near Battle Creek that were sold to employees on accommodating terms. Post helped establish, and later served as president of, the anti-union group Citizen's Industrial Alliance. In 1910 the National Trades and Workers Association succeeded this organization. Post offered Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) $100,000 to serve as its president, but the former U.S. president (1901–1909) declined.
Post committed suicide on May 9, 1914, at his home in Santa Barbara, California. He was survived by his second wife Leila D. Young, and his daughter, Marjorie Merriweather Post—the sole inheritor of Postum Ltd. At the time of his death, C.W. Post's fortune was estimated at $20 million. Marjorie Post's second husband, stockbroker Edward F. Hutton, led Postum in an aggressive crusade to acquire other grocery brands. In 1929, Postum Ltd. became the General Foods Corporation.
See also: W.K. Kellogg, Postum Company
Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1983, s.v. "Post, Charles William."
Butler, Mary. Walking the Road to Wellville: C.W. Post and the Postum Cereal Company. Battle Creek, MI: Heritage Publications, 1995.
Carlson, Gerald. "Cornflake Crusade: A History of the Food Reformers and Cereal Kings Who Made Battle Creek the Center of a Revolution in America's Eating Habits." American Heritage, June 1957.
Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: The Gale Group, 1998, s.v. "Post, Charles William."
Hencey, Robert E. Empires. Battle Creek, MI: Miller Foundation, 1996.
Major, Nettie Leitch. C.W. Post: The Hour and the Man; a Biography with Genealogical Supplement. Washington, DC: Press of Judd and Detweiler, 1963.
c.w. post became famous for claiming that his healthy breakfast foods would put consumers on the "road to wellville."