The Retro Breakfast Revolution: 1960s Cereal Brands That Changed Everything
By Sarah Norman | August 7, 2023
The incredibly strange and mixed up world of breakfast cereal
Millions of people a day start their morning with a big bowl of cereal. Whether they're eating a sugar coated cluster of wheat or a healthy fiber-filled alternative they all come from the same place. Over the last century cereal has changed from a wacky idea by guy just looking for something plain to eat to a billion dollar industry. Let's take a look at how we got there.
Breakfast cereal was an American invention created by James Caleb Jackson
When you think of the word, “invention,” typically something along the lines of science and technology comes to mind. So, thinking along those lines, breakfast cereal might not be something considered an invention, but it was just that!
The first known breakfast cereal was not meant to be sweet and fruity, but rather a healthy way for vegetarians to eat
The history of breakfast cereal began as the brainchild of an American gentleman named James Caleb Jackson. Jackson was known to be a religious conservative. He was also a vegetarian and was determined to come up with a healthy alternative to traditional breakfast fodder which, at the time, consisted largely of starchy foods and fatty meats.
Jackson’s version of breakfast cereal may not have been appealing to the taste buds but was a healthy alternative for vegetarians, like himself. He made his invention out of dried graham flour dough. After the dough was dried, it was broken into small, bite-sized pieces. The problem, however, was that it was so hard it had to be soaked in milk overnight in order to eat it without breaking any teeth! Yum!
Jackson called his breakfast cereal invention, “granula.” It would later be called, “granola”
Fast forward many years to the groovy era and breakfast cereal was considered to be a novelty. Cereal manufacturers like Kellogg's, Quaker and C.W. Post were onboard with marketing their products to children. They came with plenty of sugar, fruity flavors, brightly colored tidbits, and dried fruit. Kids couldn’t resist and it worked like a charm!
Caleb Jackson never dreamed of including a cool prize with his breakfast cereal
Cereal manufactures cleverly marketed their products to children by way of TV commercials, tag lines, jingles and fun surprises in every box. Additionally, many of the cereal manufacturers had lively and lovable mascots that went a long way in promoting their brands.
If you were a product of the groovy era, you will remember these famous breakfast cereals and their slogans
Tony the Tiger emerged in the ‘50s but endured throughout the groovy era and beyond. He was a lovable and not so scary tiger who advertised Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. His famous tagline was, “They’re Gr-r-r-eat!” This very well may be the most recognized cereal tagline of all time.
Quiso and Cocoa Hoots
Plenty of kids from the groovy era must surely remember KABOOM, Quisp and Cocoa Hoots! "Quisp for Quazy energy" was the Quisp cereal tagline.
The breakfast of champions
Oh Captain My Captain
Let's run down the catchphrases
- “Silly Rabbit, Trix Are For Kids!”
- Toucan Sam, the Froot Loops mascot, was famous for the taglines, "Follow my nose! It always knows the flavor of fruit! Wherever it grows!”
- The ‘70s was famous for its cereal brands with monster mascots. Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry were a huge hit with kids.
- “Can’t get enough Super Sugar Crisp!” This was a great tagline from the ‘60s.
- Kix, “Kid tested. Mother approved!”
- "Honey-Comb's big! Yeah, yeah, yeah! It's not small... no, no, no!" This was Honey- Comb’s catchy jingle that really had kids singing in the ‘70s.
- Raisin Brand boasted, “two scoops of raisins in every box!”
- "I'm coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs!" Cocoa Puffs was among the first popular chocolate breakfast cereals.
- Lucky Charms was a dream come true with the tiny marshmallows! “They’re always after me Lucky Charms! They're Magically Delicious!"
Snap! Crackle! Pop!
- “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” was the Rice Krispies tagline. It was also the name of the 3 little mascots.
- Life Cereal had a little guy named, Mikey, who didn’t like anything, help sell a lot of cereal. “He likes it! Hey Mikey!”
The end of healthy ceral
Breakfast cereal began as a healthy alternative for breakfast. After the concept took off, it remained an alternative but mostly lost its healthy values. Like with most things in life, what is old becomes new again. In this day and age, breakfast is attempting to come full circle by getting back to being a healthy way to eat. Mr. Jackson would be proud. That being said, there's no way that he could have guessed the monstrous turn that breakfast cereals would take in the 1960s.
Monsters on the loose
How do you get kids to eat their breakfasts? You scare them, of course. Not with fear-mongering, threats, or frightening nutritional information, but with monster cereal. With the Halloween season fast approaching, let's look at how cereal manufacturers decided that kids needed a good scare in the morning as part of a well-balanced breakfast.
It was the '70s, Obviously
It all started in the 1970s, when marketing sugar-laden products directly to children was all the rage, and so were monsters. The Munsters was a hit TV show that '70s kids grew up on. They also had a steady diet of monster movies, starring Godzilla, Frankenstein, Mothra, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. More than dinosaurs, superheroes, and baby dolls, the kids of that decade clamored for monsters.
Welcome, Count Chocula and Franken Berry
General Mills released the first two monster kinds of cereal, Count Chocula and Franken Berry, in March 1971. They were virtually identical cereals of puffed corn with marshmallow chunks, just in different flavors. In fact, both cereals were marketed as ways to create flavored milk in your cereal bowl: Count Chocula cereal turned regular milk into chocolate milk, and likewise, the Franken Berry cereal produced strawberry milk. Unfortunately, that wasn't Franken Berry's only unusual byproduct.
Franken Berry Stool
Within a year of the release of Count Chocula and Franken Berry, General Mills was getting numerous weird complaints from consumers. It seemed the dye that was used to turn the Franken Berry cereal and the milk poured into it pink had the same effect on consumers' poop. The condition that no doubt gave many mothers a nasty shock was dubbed "Franken Berry stool." Since the side effect was deemed harmless, if entirely unwanted, General Mills opted not to change the dye it used in Franken Berry cereal. It must not have been that off-putting; sales of the cereals continued to soar.
Count Chocula and Franken Berry appeared in a series of television commercials together over the next few decades. The cartoon version of Count Chocula, whose first name was revealed to be Alfred, was loosely based on horror movie actor Bela Lugosi, while Franken Berry was reminiscent of actor Boris Karloff. Most of the commercials, which were aimed at young children, featured the two cereal mascots arguing lightheartedly over which cereal was the best, so engrossed in their debate that they would not notice a person, usually a child, approaching them. In an ironic twist, the commercial would end with the child scaring the monsters.
Most Monsters Joined the Scene
In December 1973, General Mills added a new monster cereal to the mix. The ghostly Boo Berry, voiced by Paul Frees, became the mascot for the blueberry-flavored version of the famous cereal. It was followed the next year by a werewolf-fronted cereal, Fruit Brute. Over time, Fruit Brute was discontinued, but in 1987, it reemerged as Fruity Yummy Mummy, with---plot twist---a mummy mascot.
Games and Prizes
In addition to sugary goodness and comically spooky mascots, cereal manufacturers had another trick up their sleeves (and in their boxes) for getting kids to beg their parents to buy their cereal: the promise of games and prizes. The back sides of the cereal boxes contained tales of the monsters' adventures or games like word searches or riddles. Inside the boxes, kids could find small trinkets like figurines or stickers that they were encouraged to collect.
The Monsters Retire
In 2010, General Mills decided to stop year-round production of its monster cereals. Instead, the company announced that they would produce them seasonally to celebrate Halloween. In 2014, the monster characters all got a facelift from a team of artists to give them an updated and more appealing look, as seen above. Although they are now only available for a portion of the year, Count Chocula and the rest of the monster cereals have the honor of being the longest-running cereal mascots in pop culture history.
Cereal, now for kids!
Since Dr. John Harvey Kellogg invented the first breakfast cereal, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, manufacturers have realized that young children, and their mothers, make up their primary customer base. It was only natural for cereal manufacturers to look for ways to make their products more appealing to children so they would influence their mothers to buy more of that brand of cereal. Cereal makers tapped into something that children liked just as much as sugary cereal … toys.
More than just cereal
In this collection of colorized photographs, we will take a look at some of the more memorable prizes and premiums from cereal boxes of the 1910s to 1940s. From decoder rings to books, these cereal premiums were often the highlight of the breakfast table. How many of these do you remember?
Kellogg’s Quirky Changeable Book
The first cereal, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, was also the first cereal to offer a premium or prize. In 1912, Kellogg’s ran a nationwide promo. Every customer that purchased two boxes of Corn Flakes at the same time was given a children’s book by the store cashier. The freebie book was titled The Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures Book. A quirky little book, it was designed with multiple flaps that could flip around to create several different stories from the same book. It was ingenious. And quite popular. In 1912 alone, the cereal company gave out two and a half million copies of the book. Kellogg’s continued this promotion for 28 years when the book was replaced with a glider airplane.
Shirley Temple’s Pitcher
Little Shirley Temple made a fortune in endorsement deals. In fact, she made more money by licensing her image on various products than any other celebrity of the time. Wheaties hopped on the Shirley Temple bandwagon by offering free giveaways featuring the pint-sized superstar’s face. With the purchase of two boxes of Wheaties, customers could get a piece of cobalt blue Depression-era glass, either a cereal bowl, a mug, or a small milk pitcher. Each piece bore the likeness of the curly-haired child.
Track Your Workouts with a Cereal Giveaway
Cereal manufacturers often sponsored radio programs in the 1920s and 1930s. That gave them an opportunity to promote their products and giveaways on the radio and to use the show’s characters on promotional items. Such was the case with the Jack Armstrong Hike-o-Meter, an actual pedometer, that was part of a premium by Wheaties. Between 1933 and 1951, kids tuned in to the radio to hear the exploits of Jack Armstrong, an all-American teen who went on exciting adventures around the globe. The Jack Armstrong Hike-o-Meter was a small pedometer that was free to kids who mailed in Wheaties box tops. More than a million kids did that in the 1930s alone.
A Whistle in Every Box
During the 1920s, Malt-O-Meal sponsored Steamboat Bill, a popular radio show. Early on in the show’s history, the title character would ask children to send in their favorite joke, but it must be written on a Malt-O-Meal box top. If the host read the joke on the air, that kid got a prize … a toy steamboat whistle. Eventually, the folks at Malt-O-Meal decided to be more inclusive with their giveaway. They put one of the small steamboat whistles right inside every box of Malt-O-Meal, so every child had an opportunity to own a Steamboat Bill whistle.
A Spy Ring
Actor Tom Mix starred in more than a hundred movies between 1910 and 1935 and even had his own radio show from 1933 to 1950. In the 1940s, the Ralston Cereal company, the sponsor of the radio show, launched a giveaway. Kids could send in box tops from Ralston Cereal and receive a Tom Mix Look-Around Ring, a cool piece of spyware. The ring had two six-shooters on the top and small holes on the sides. Tiny mirrors were positioned inside the ring so when you looked in the holes, you could see items that were situated in your peripheral vision.
Little Orphan Annie’s Secret Society
Remember the iconic scene from A Christmas Story when young Ralphie finally gets his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring in the mail and could decode the secret message from the radio show? That was real. Starting in 1930, the Little Orphan Annie radio show, sponsored by Ovaltine, began broadcasting to kids around the country. By sending in box tops from Ovaltine, kids could become ‘members’ of Little Orphan Annie’s secret society and receive a badge, certificate, and decoder ring. And just like the scene in A Christmas Story, most of the messages that kids decoded were calls to action to drink more Ovaltine.
Ovaltine’s Plane Detector
Kids felt like they were aiding the war effort with the clever Ovaltine giveaway that was tied into the Captain Midnight radio show. The radio show followed the adventures of Captain Jim “Red” Albright, a former World War I flying ace code-named Captain Midnight. He was called back into action to fight the Nazis in World War II. Kids loved to follow his fictional exploits on the radio and hear about the espionage and sabotage of the second World War. As part of an Ovaltine giveaway, kids could get a Captain Midnight MJC-10 Plane Detector. This was basically a piece of cardboard with the silhouettes of Allied and Axis planes on it. Kids could use it to identify the planes they saw overhead and, theoretically, alert authorities if the enemy was invading U.S. soil.