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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 695

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This is the grave of C.W. Post.

Born in 1854 in Springfield, Illinois, Charles William Post ended up at what became the University of Illinois after he finished high school, but only stayed two years and then dropped out. He didn’t have a particularly interesting life in his early years. He lived in Kansas for a bit, moved back to Springfield, and worked a bunch of jobs as a salesman. A tinkerer, he did patent a bunch of improvements to farming instruments.

In 1885, Post suffered a mental breakdown. He made a total break with his old life. After recovery, he moved to Texas in 1886 and went into real estate near Fort Worth. He was successful but suffered a second breakdown in 1891. Basically, he responded to high stress jobs by breaking down. He traveled in Europe for a bit and then traveled to Battle Creek, Michigan, where he stayed in a sanitarium to continue his recovery. This was owned by the famous cereal creator and eccentric John Harvey Kellogg. Post decided to go into the cereal business himself. Did he steal the recipes from Kellogg? It’s possible. Certainly many have accused him of this. Given that he initially tried to open an alternative sanitarium to Kellogg’s, stealing that idea, one thinks it likely. He put his first cereal on the market in 1897: Grape Nuts. It was a big seller. He followed with lots of other cereals too. His own version of corn flakes that was called Post Toasties.

This made Post the rich man he always wanted to be. He left his wife for his secretary. The ex-wife died soon after. He invested big time in Texas real estate through his old friends in that and got even richer. He also was a classic huckster. He actually claimed that Grape Nuts could cure appendicitis. This was right at the moment when these claims were coming under attack, part of the reason for the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. A reporter for Collier’s Weekly published an article noting that these claims were bogus. Post responded by saying the author of the article lacked mental capacity. That led to a libel lawsuit and eventually the end of the ridiculous health claims. He was also horrendously anti-union, not just in the classic capitalist way but as a particularly vocal hater of organized labor. This 1908 New York Times article on Post notes him lambasting Theodore Roosevelt for supposedly supporting an anti-injunction law, which was of course the critical tool employers used to end strikes. Claiming that Roosevelt was a tool of Samuel Gompers, Post was a frothing fool that night and one suspects many nights. Unions called for boycotts against his cereals.

In late 1913, Post started having stomach pain. Somewhat ironically, he thought it was appendicitis (eat another bowl of Grape Nuts!). But it wasn’t. It’s not entirely clear just what it was. Maybe cancer. The Mayo Brothers tried to cure him but couldn’t. So he shot himself. He was 59 years old.

C.W. Post is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan.

If you would like this series to visit other American food manufacturers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Jay Hormel is in Austin, Minnesota and James Kraft is in Skokie, Illinois. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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