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David Lissner
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That momentous, filamentous introduction in Chicago

shredded wheat patent


This summer marks the 120th anniversary of the World’s Columbian Exposition. The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 opened to the public in May, and introduced quite a few new foods, both directly and indirectly. The six-month-long fair put the blue ribbon on Pabst Beer, brought Chicagoans tamales, Vienna Beef hot dogs and Aunt Jemima pancake mix and led to the invention of the brownie. The fair also brought the DeJonghes, who would later create their garlicky namesake shrimp dish, to the city. The lady managers of the fair produced a cookbook, as well.

shredded wheat

Continuing our look at food introduced at the fair, we come to a new morning cereal: Shredded Wheat, the first “cookless breakfast food.”

Henry Perky, a vegetarian lawyer and entrepreneur with stomach trouble, invented the coiled filament cereal in 1891. His doctor had recommended a regimen of boiled wheat three times a day. Trying to find a way to make this diet more appetizing, Perky came up with the concept of spreading the stuff on a grooved plate and baking it into brittle threads.

Henry Perky

Henry Perky

With a machinist friend, William H. Ford, Perky created a machine for making the filaments from steamed wheat and forming them into coiled biscuits, filing a patent for a “Machine for the Preparation of Cereals for Food (the economic reduction of cereals in the grain state to desirable forms of food without detracting from their natural nutritious qualities and virtue and for the better preparation of the same for more convenient and general use).”

The inventors brought their machine to Chicago with the intent of selling the device, but got no orders. The cereal drew more interest than the gizmo for making it. The product’s debut at the fair put Perky ahead of those other health-food cereal promoters — Dr. Harvey Kellogg and his corn flakes, introduced in 1895, and C.W. Post and his Grape-Nuts, brought out in 1897 — as the creator of the first mass-produced, nationally distributed, ready-to-eat cold cereal.

Perky expanded his process to create the Triscuit, a “filamentous cracker,” in 1900.

Triscuit patent


Perky started out producing his products in Denver, where he founded the Cereal Machine Co., complete with a restaurant to serve the cereal and horse-drawn wagons that peddled it door to door. Later, he changed the name to the Shredded Wheat Co. and moved to Niagara Falls, N.Y. His own company board of directors forced him to sell his stock in 1901, the firm was renamed the Natural Food Co., and Perky resigned as president three years later.

The brand was bought by the National Biscuit Co. in 1928, and ultimately became part of Post Cereals. Shredded Wheat cereal was made in Naperville from 1970 until 2008, when Northfield-based Kraft Foods sold Post to Ralcorp in St. Louis, which spun it off back into a standalone company last year. (A spokeswoman declined to say where Shredded Wheat is made now, claiming that’s “confidential information,” but the firm has manufacturing plants in Arkansas, California and Michigan.)

Kraft’s Deerfield-based snack-foods spinoff, Mondelez International, created in 2012, still makes Triscuits at the Naperville plant.