The man most responsible for making Cream of Wheat the top-selling hot breakfast cereal in America had earlier been a North Dakota farmer and newspaper editor.
Emery Mapes co-founded the Cream of Wheat company and, through his genius as a promoter, created an marketing campaign that revolutionized how many advertisements were produced.
Emery Cordenio Mapes Jr. was born Sept. 24, 1853, in Aurora, Ill., to Emery and Laura (Severance) Mapes. The younger Mapes received his public education in rural Minnesota schools and graduated from Ripon College.
Mapes moved to northern Dakota Territory in 1882 to engage in the newspaper business and founded the weekly Nelson County News in Lakota. In anticipation of the arrival of the Great Northern Railroad, Mapes purchased land midway between Lakota and Tolna and laid out a town site on Stump Lake that he named Wamduska. On July 11, a post office was established, and Mapes was named postmaster.
In 1883, when it became apparent that the Great Northern would be bypassing the town 10 miles to the north, Mapes founded another town 4 miles east of Lakota. The town of Mapes thrived at the beginning, but, after many fires, most citizens relocated. With the decline in population, the Great Northern no longer stopped at Mapes, which intensified the out-migration process. Ambitious to make his fortune, Mapes became interested in milling.
On July 11, 1889, the opportunity to purchase a mill occurred when the Diamond Flour Mill at Lake Crystal, near Mankato, Minn., burned and was not insured. Most of the machinery was saved and, to recover some of their investment, the owners sold the operating equipment.
Mapes and George Bull, a Grand Forks farm manager, purchased the machinery and had it shipped to Grand Forks. Together, they started the Diamond Flour Mill, though neither man knew anything about milling. Tom Amidon, an experienced miller from Jamestown, was hired to supervise the operation of the facility. The business venture almost folded before it got started when Amidon, after inspecting the flour mill, informed the two partners that the machinery was almost useless. It had become warped from the fire, and much of it needed to be retooled.
The three men believed in their enterprise and brought in George Clifford, a local banker and attorney, as another partner in order to raise the necessary capital. Bull also convinced Grand Forks banker S. S. Titus and 10 others to invest in the company. Because Cream of Wheat later became a main staple of the breakfast cereal industry, the initial investment of $40,000 made all of the original stockholders very wealthy.
The Diamond Flour Mill ran into more tough times when the Panic of 1893 wiped out many American enterprises. Fortunately, Amidon came up with an idea that not only saved the company, but also launched a popular new cereal. He gathered the farina, the whitest part of the wheat, which he took home and cooked into a cereal. The taste was delicious and the texture was smooth. Through persistence, Amidon convinced Bull and Mapes to send some samples to their New York brokers.
Believing they had a superb product, the partners now needed to employ proper marketing techniques. The owners located some rough strawboard and, with the use of jackknives, fashioned boxes for the cereal. Mapes reproduced colorful images for the boxes giving them life and appeal. Everything was now ready with the exception of a name for their new cereal. George Clifford’s brother, Fred, worked in the office at the mill and believed that the name needed to focus on the fact that the whitest part of the wheat was used in the cereal. After a discussion, it was determined that the name of the cereal would be Cream of Wheat.
On Oct. 6, 1893, the partners of the Diamond Flour Mill sent 360 boxes of Cream of Wheat to New York, along with a carload of milled flour. Within three hours of the boxcars arriving, the brokers sent a telegram to the Grand Forks mill stating, “Never mind shipping us your flour. Send us a carload of Cream of Wheat.”
To gear up to fill this order of nearly 2,000 boxes and even larger shipments in the future, the owners of the Diamond Flour Mill needed to organize a strategic plan. The mill was renamed the Cream of Wheat Factory, and an assembly line was implemented so that many boxes of cereal could be churned out each day. Melvin Brannon, a biology professor at the University of North Dakota, developed an electrolysis treatment that eliminated contaminants and provided longer shelf life for the cereal.
To create national interest in the new product, Mapes began running ads for Cream of Wheat in the Ladies Home Journal in November of 1896. The demand for this new cereal was extraordinary. By 1897, it became apparent that the company needed a better location for a distribution center. The owners chose Minneapolis as the new site for the bigger and better Cream of Wheat Factory as they prepared to become a major player in the growing cereal market.