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When Postum Rivaled Coffee as America’s Drink

HISTORICALLY CY-FAIR
When Postum Rivaled Coffee as America’s Drink

| November 1, 2017

The picture of the Postum girl was probably a premium that people could get by sending in box tops, a popular advertising ploy in the early 1900s. Color illustrations were rare and so it was "free" art for people's homes.

The picture of the Postum girl was probably a premium that people could get by sending in box tops, a popular advertising ploy in the early 1900s. Color illustrations were rare and so it was “free” art for people’s homes.

Postum-on-shelf

Postum on display in the General Store.

The coffee-alternative drink Postum was the brainchild of C. W. Post, who was born in 1854. The young entrepreneur started a hardware store and sold it a year later at a profit. He took to selling farm implements as a traveling salesman but also invented and patented several. By 1885 he was exhausted and had a nervous breakdown. By 1888 he was in Texas selling real estate and managing a wool mill. He also invented such items as a player piano, an “improved” bicycle and “scientific suspenders.”

A third nervous breakdown in 1890 led him to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, where he enjoyed Dr. Kellogg’s Carmel Coffee brewed from grain. After two years at the sanatorium, Post recovered enough to open a competing establishment. To help with his finances, he packaged the cereal drink he served at his own sanitarium and began promoting Postum in 1895. His advertising genius emerged: within 10 years he was a millionaire. His advertising budget in mid-1895 was $1,200 a month; by 1897 it had risen to $20,000 a month. His ads in newspaper and magazines across the country drove demand. His pitch was that coffee with caffeine was poison and ruined the nerves, while Postum was healthful and cheaper, too. His tag line was “There’s a reason.” Even though Post lost a lawsuit filed by coffee marketers who said his claims were false, Postum’s sales weren’t affected. Post also developed Grape-Nuts cereal; that success was soon followed by Post Toasties. He promoted both with health-conscious advertising, and his fortunes soared.

In 1907 he developed a model city/agricultural development, Post City, Texas, 40 miles southeast of Lubbock. He laid out the town, and built streets lined with trees. He added houses, a hotel, a cotton gin and textile plant. The town soon had a newspaper, post office, school and bank. The venture was marginal and never fulfilled his utopian dream. Today the town of Post has a population of about 5,300.

C.W. Post continued to be plagued by stress and prone to nervous breakdown. In spite of success, wealth, and family, he committed suicide in 1914. His daughter, Marjorie Merriweather Post, to whom he had given $2 million and trained in business years before, proved to be astute. Her second marriage was to E.F. Hutton, and with her $20 million inheritance at her father’s death, did well. Together she and Hutton created General Foods in 1929. One wonders if C.W. flipped in his grave when they bought Maxwell House Coffee.

If you would like to see the Postum memorabilia or other examples of early product brands that are still with us today, visit Commissioner Steve Radack’s Cypress Top Historic Park at 26026 Hempstead Highway. Contact them at cypresstop@pct3.com or 281-357-5324. The Cypress Historical Society is in the California Poppy-yellow train depot replica in the back of the park. The Society has genealogy and historical information for the greater Cypress area. Contact them at cypresshistsociety@att.net or 281-758-0083. If you have questions or comments about this article, contact Fred Collins at fcndc@juno.com.

 

Historical facts courtesy of Cypress Top Historic Park Collection & Cypress Historical Society: Preserving Cypress History for Posterity.

 

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