February 7, 2007

Post

And the man behind the brand is...
C.W. Post

At the age of 10 Charles William Post watched solemnly as his father walked through the streets of Springfield, Illinois as a member of the honor guard laying Abraham Lincoln to rest. The patriotic fires burned inside young Post and he left the Illinois Industrial College at Urbana, the forerunner of the University of Illinois, at the age of 15 to join the Springfield Governors Guards. He served in Chicago in 1871 after the Great Fire left the city under martial law.

This exciting event led Post to abandon the course set for him by his businessman father and his mother, a writer of verse. He left to explore the West with a friend. They borrowed $1000 from Post's mother and opened a hardware store in Independence, Kansas. After a year the young partners had doubled their money. Post sold his half-interest and returned home to pay back his mother and marry a neighbor girl.

Post planted his bride with his family and went to work as a travelling salesman with the Climax Corn Planter Company to study the frontier and earn money. Commercial travelling in the mid-1800s was fraught with hardships: bad water, worse food and uncertain accommodations. Post suffered from digestive disturbances, the first of many days spent in broken health.

In 1880 Post came home to manufacture his own improved seed planter and in 1881, at the age of 27, he formed the Illinois Agricultural Works. He patented cultivators, a haystacker and a harrow. Post prospered to such an extent that the banker who made his loans tried to take over his business. In 1885 Post collapsed from nervous exhaustion between his work and bank problems.

In 1887 Post moved to Fort Worth to recuperate more fully. While in Texas Post became involved in papermaking and a woolen mill. Always a fastidious dresser Post began marketing a "Scientific Suspender" he developed. But the strain of his new business ventures and lingering difficulties from his past entanglements led to a more serious nervous collapse in 1890.

Early in 1891 the family moved to Battle Creek, Michigan to entrust Post's care to Dr. Kellogg's nationally famous health Sanitarium. Post was a patient for nine months, confined to a wheelchair. Nothing seemed to work. Dr. Kellogg called Mrs. Post to say her husband had little time left, that he was not getting well.

She wheeled the frail Post across town to Elizabeth Gregory, a practitioner of Christian Science. Post listened to her theories and decided to stay under her care even though she had no facilities. She remodeled her home to accommodate Post. She admonished him over his fear of impure food and convinced him that he had to act well to get well. And Post recovered.

He liquidated all his holdings to establish La Vita Inn in Battle Creek to teach patients about dietary and mental influence in healthcare. Word spread around town of a patient rejected by Dr. Kellogg was got well on his own. Post devoured medical books on spiritual healing and medicine. He conducted experiments with food and dietetics. He wrote a book on "mind over matter," I Am Well, which sold well. In the meantime he revived his suspender business, which also did well.

Post developed a cereal drink as a coffee substitute in 1895. He called the food drink "Postum" and it tapped an America when the health and fad foods craze was at its zenith. Post was the first to introduce foods to the public through advertising. A $200 ad produced $5000 in sales. Post eventually became the largest advertiser in the world.

He wrote most of the copy himself using "plain words for plain people." He developed Grape-Nuts in 1898 as a "scientific food" that made red blood. In 1908 Post introduced Post Toasties and in 1911 came Instant Postum. Along with Postum these were Post's only foods - and they generated one of the country's greatest fortunes.

Aside from his food business Post created the Post Check Currency to end the problem of mailing money through the mail. In 1907 he developed his own community in Texas but Post City, the most ambitious of projects, couldn't sustain its original momentum and Post sold most of his holdings. Charles William Post died in 1914, leaving the business in the capable hands of his daughter.

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