That ever so familiar orange box of Wheaties has been gracing the breakfast tables of America for over 80 years now. Like some other good things in life, it started out as a complete accident.
We can thank a health clinician in Minneapolis, Minnesota for bringing us the Breakfast of Champions. It seems he was whipping up a batch of some wheat/bran concoction and accidentally spilled some of those tasty morsels onto a hot stove. They soon began to form into flakes. Realizing that they might have stumbled onto a good thing, some trial and error testing was done to make the flakes more durable and hold up to being packaged and shipped. The fine folks at Washburn Crosby Company (later to become General Mills) came up with the rather elongated name of Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. They hit the market in 1924.
Realizing that was a mouthful to say, an employee contest was held to come up with another name and lo and behold, the name Wheaties was coined by the wife of one of the executives of the company.
Wheaties – The Breakfast of Champions
Wheaties and sports seemed to be a marriage made in heaven. They started advertising their product by posting a sign in a minor league baseball stadium in their hometown of Minneapolis. In 1933, General Mills inked a radio broadcast deal to sponsor the Minneapolis Millers on a local station but they needed a slogan to help brand their product. A gentleman by the name of Knox Reeves from a local advertising company was the first to utter those immortal words “Wheaties – The Breakfast of Champions. The slogan stuck and has been used by the company ever since.
Wheaties and Baseball
Sales of Wheaties started to take off and it wasn’t long before “Wheaties baseball broadcast” graduated to the ranks of the pro’s. Soon, they were being heard in every almost every major league city across the country. I’m sure it didn’t hurt to have stars of the day such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbel just to name a few, pitching your product for you. As a matter of fact, in the 1939 All-Star Game, 46 of the 51 players who took part in the game sang the praises of Wheaties.
Later that same year, Wheaties helped bring baseball to the small screen when they sponsored the first ever televised game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers. They managed to snag the immortal Red Barber to handle the play by play.
Wheaties and Politics
Wheaties also had a hand in politics although at the time they didn’t know it. It seems that an up and coming sports broadcaster by the name of Ronald Reagan was using their broadcasts to do recreations of the Chicago Cubs games for local consumption. A contest was held and “Dutch Reagan” was voted as the most popular broadcaster. His prize was a trip to the Chicago Cubs spring training camp in California. While he was there he paid a little visit to Warner Brothers studios and took a screen test. Warner Brothers liked what they saw and the rest is history.
Wheaties Makes Its Move
It wasn’t long after their success in the baseball world that Wheaties began to expand. Soon they had stars from other sports such as boxing’s Jack Dempsey and Olympian Johnny Weismuller began touting the cereal. Football heroes such as Red Grange and Otto Graham chimed in with their two cents worth as did golfers like Sam Snead and the ever reserved Ben Hogan. As a matter of fact, famous people from just about every sport from auto racing to rodeo riders had good things to say about Wheaties.
Who Pissed in Your Wheaties?
As television grew more popular, Wheaties began to find increased competition for ad time and the production costs of broadcasting games had begun to skyrocket. They soon gave up their sole sponsorship and decided to start airing commercials during the games instead. This wasn’t quite as effective and sales of Wheaties began to fall. The execs at General Mills decide that a change was in order to remarket the product.
After looking at a ton of research and poring over a mountain of marketing statistics, the head honcho’s decided to drop their affiliation with the sports world entirely. As an alternative, they went after the market for children and started advertising on places such as the Lone Ranger and the Mickey Mouse Club
It was a disaster.
Sales of the Breakfast of Champions continued to plummet and fell more than ten percent.
Wheaties Goes Back To Its Roots
Well, almost. Instead of going after the pro’s, Wheaties went after Olympic athletes and decided to pursue such amateur sports such as track and field. In addition, they created a whole new form of broadcasting when they introduced the concept of pre- and post game shows. They also introduced something called the Wheaties Sports Federation which worked along side such organizations as the United States Olympic Committee and the newly formed President’s Council on Fitness. Both of those groups were instrumental in getting youngsters to participate in athletic endeavors on a local level.
As the years progressed, Wheaties shifted its emphasis on the so-called “big-time” sports like baseball, football and basketball and started promoting a more diverse menu of swimming, skiing, tennis and golf
Wheaties – The Cream of the Crop
When you think about all of the sports figures that graced the boxes of Wheaties throughout the years, it’s hard to believe that only seven of them became an “official spokesman” for the product. In order, they were:
Mary Lou Retton
Baseball great Lou Gehrig was the first athlete to grace a box of Wheaties way back in 1934.
When the Minnesota Twins won the World Series back in 1987, they became the first team to make an appearance.
A female aviator by the name of Elinor Smith became the first woman to make the cover, also in 1934
Wheaties pioneered the “jingle” when they had one of the first singing commercials on radio way back in 1926.
It took until 1986 for a football player to break through when Walter Payton appeared on the scene.
The first golfer to make the box was Lee Trevino in 1969
Along with his many basketball records that might not be broken, Michael Jordan has had eighteen different versions of him make the box. Those include three of the championships with the Chicago Bulls when the whole team appeared.