Charles William Post was born in 1854 in Springfield, Illinois and worked as a salesman and manufacturer of agricultural machines. At age 37, in 1891, he suffered an emotional breakdown. He went to a doctor named J. Harvey Kellogg, who had a sanitarium where he claimed to cure people miraculously with a vegetarian diet, daily enemas and abstention from sex.
C.W. moved to Battle Creek, Michigan and entered Dr. Kellogg’s sanitarium. Dr. Kellogg put C. W. Post in a wheelchair, told him never to eat meat again, prescribed a diet that was loaded with fiber, gave him enemas and took all his money, eventually leaving Post with no funds whatever.
How C.W. Post Became an Entrepreneur
Since C.W. Post couldn’t pay for his medical advice any more, Dr. Kellogg kicked him out of the sanitarium. Without any money, Post had to use his wits to make a living, so he used his most persuasive possession, his mouth.
In 1892, Post persuaded several local people to lend him money and he set up his own sanitarium. He remembered how badly he missed meat when he was on Dr. Kellogg’s diet, so he allowed his clients to eat meat.
He Invented Postum in 1894
C. W. Post was jealous of Dr. Kellogg and knew that Dr. Kellogg made a great deal of money from his new coffee, Minute Brew, made from cereal grains. Post bought a used gasoline stove for roasting bran, a small hand-operated peanut roaster for roasting wheat, an old fashioned coffee grinder and invented “Postum”, which was a coffee substitute made primarily of roasted chicory. It sold like hot cakes.
He was more than a huckster; he was a brilliant advertiser who created fictional medical testimonials to praise his products. He created fictional doctors who would appear in magazine and newspaper advertisements claiming that coffee caused “…divorces, business failures, factory accidents, juvenile delinquency, traffic accidents, fire or home foreclosures…” He invented the term “Coffee Neuralgia,” claiming that coffee caused headaches. He claimed that coffee caused a disease called coffee heart, and Postum would cure that heart disease. Coffee caused coffee nerves and Postum cured nervous breakdowns and depression. Coffee also caused “lost eyesight” and Postum would cure blindness. Post was such a persuasive advertiser that he made $250,000 in his second year.
Post Invented Grape Nuts Cereal in 1895
Since people drank Postum mostly in the winter, he needed a summer product and came up with Grape Nuts, a cereal that he claimed cured appendicitis, loose teeth and even tuberculosis and malaria. Each package of Grape Nuts came with a copy of his book, The Road to Wellville.
By 1901, Post was making more than a million dollars a year in profit. He advertised that Grape Nuts cereal, which was bran and molasses with some added sugar, was more healthful than bread. Today we know that excessive sugared foods increase risk for obesity, diabetes and heart attacks.
In 1898, he started building his production plant to make his “life saving, disease-curing” foods. In 1899, he built his own paper mill, the Battle Creek Paper company. This became the carton and container division of Post products.
The Fruits of Success
In 1901, 47-year-old C. W. Post divorced his loving, faithful wife and ran off with his 20-year-old secretary.
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg hated CW Post because of all the nasty things Post said about his products, so he grasped on this news to claim that Post was Satan. Post responded by suing Kellogg. The small village called Battle Creek was now the health food center of the United States and it was not big enough for the both of them. They traded dirty looks when they passed each other on the street.
On May 9, 1914, 60-year-old C.W. Post died and was buried in Battle Creek. The false medical benefits for his products had made him so rich that he built a whole city in Texas. His arch rival, John Harvey Kellogg, outlived him by 29 years, dying at age 91 in 1943.
John Harvey Kellogg’s enterprises became the Kellogg’s cereal company. Post’s company ballooned into General Foods, which continued to make ridiculous, incredibly unsupportable health claims for its products until 1951, when the Federal Trade Commission began to regulate advertising and packaging.
Marjorie Merriweather Post
On his death, Post’s daughter and heir, Marjorie Merriweather Post, became the wealthiest woman in the world. One of her estates became the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University. She used a portion of her huge fortune to buy artifacts of Czarist Russia from Soviet authorities just before the outbreak of World War II. She loaded her three yachts with treasures of the Russian czars and brought them to the United States. These spectacular pieces of art can be seen today in her monumental home that is now a museum in Washington, D.C.