Archive for Thursday, July 14, 2011

Smith: 3 cheers for Cheerios

July 14, 2011

Jay Leno has a periodic feature on “The Tonight Show,” calling for the audience to guess whether a product is older than Hugh Hefner, the “Playboy” founder. I thought that I would take a cue from that and ask, “Is Clausie Smith older than his favorite breakfast cereal?”

The answer is an emphatic “yes,” but only by a few years. My all-time and forever favorite cold breakfast cereal is Cheerios. The round, oat-based cereal debuted on May 1, 1941 — just a little more than four years after I joined the human race. According to the information I read, Cheerios was the first oat-based cold cereal. Of course, hot oatmeal had been around for many years and was a staple for breakfast during the cold winter months. Cheerios was developed by General Mills and was one of many popular breakfast foods.

When I started eating the round, crunchy morsel, it was known as “CheeriOats. The name was changed to Cheerios after a legal battle with Quaker Oats. The new name came into being in 1945. If my memory serves me well, by that time I was already a big fan of the tasty cereal in the yellow box. I have always been a big breakfast fan. In fact, when I wake up, the first thing I think about is food. After my mother died and I usually fixed my own breakfast, I discovered that cold cereal was quicker to fix than frying an egg.

Cold cereal is a fairly modern addition to menus. One source I found stated that the first modern and commercial breakfast cereal was developed by the Seventh-Day Adventists. They formed the Western Health Reform Institute, which was renamed Battle Creek Sanitarium and was located in Battle Creek, Mich.

The big breakthrough came in 1906, when Will Keith Kellogg was able to develop corn flakes after years of experimentation. His corn flakes changed breakfast menus in the United States and around the world. For much of the 18th and 19th century, eggs and possibly meat, such as bacon or ham, along with bread were staples of breakfast. In England, for example, huge breakfasts were the norm, featuring eggs, sausage, sweet rolls, bread, jam, potatoes and, of course, tea. The advent of cold cereal changed morning menus forever.

Anyway, it was a masked man with a faithful Native American companion and a cardboard frontier town that hooked me as a lifelong Cheerios lover. The masked man was the Lone Ranger with three times per week radio broadcasts. I was an avid fan of the Lone Ranger and the sponsorship of the program by Cheerios sealed my choice for cereals.

In the late 1940s, they had a Frontier Town promotion. As I remember it, boxes of cereal had small cardboard buildings, such as the jail, restaurant, etc. You assembled the town and if my memory serves me correctly, you sent in a box top and a dime and got a map of Frontier Town. This was just one of a number of cereal toys that I remember ordering.

After the Lone Ranger, Cheerios had other spokes characters. Let’s see, there were “Cheery O’Leary” and, later, the “Cheerios Kid.” I’m sure they were good, but to me they came nowhere near the stature of the Lone Ranger.

Now, I do have one pet peeve with cereal makers. I do not understand how they can take a great tasting cereal such as Cheerios, corn flakes, etc. and ruin them by covering them with honey or sugar frosting and, in general, gunk them up. No, count me among the cereal purists.

Oh, yes, I also enjoy other cereals and eggs for breakfast, too. But no matter, I always return to the friendly yellow box and the tasty morsels of oats. And every time I enjoy a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, I always hear the William Tell Overture and see a masked man on a white horse and his trusty friend riding through my mind.

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