The Great American Cereal Book: exclusive preview

I ate a lot of cereal growing up. When I was six years old I'd wake up before my parents, fill a large aluminum mixing bowl with Cap'n Crunch and milk and park myself in front of the TV (black and white) to watch Beany and Cecil. By the time I got to the bottom of the bowl, the roof of my mouth had been scraped raw.

I always wanted my parents to buy Apple Jacks, but for some reason it was a lot more expensive than other cereals, so they wouldn't buy it.

Today, I wouldn't dare put a spoonful of these corn-flavored sugar nuggets in my mouth (I don't buy sweetened cereal for my kids, either). But I greatly admire the packaging of old cereal boxes, and so I was delighted to receive an advance copy of The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch, by Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis. The publisher, Abrams Image, kindly gave me permission to run an excessive preview of the book, below. Enjoy!

Great American Cereal-Cover Americans love their breakfast cereal, which is second only to milk and soda in supermarket spending. Cereals and their cartoon spokescharacters are some of the most enduring pop-culture icons of the 20th century. The Great American Cereal Book is the definitive compendium of breakfast cereal history and lore, celebrating the most recognizable brands and packaging, such as Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes, Grape-Nuts, and Trix. Award-winning writer Marty Gitlin and co-author Topher Ellis provide behind-the-scenes stories about the creation of these iconic kitchen-table companions, with 350 images of cereal boxes, vintage ads, and rare memorabilia.

Greatamericancerealbook P54
Brought to you by: General Mills
First poured: 1941
Milked until: Still crunching
What’s in it for you: Whole-grain oats
Cerealineage: Cheerioats (1941)
Varieties: Honey-Nut Cheerios (1978); Apple Cinnamon Cheerios (1988); Cheerios to Go (1990); Multi-Grain Cheerios (1994); Frosted Cheerios (1995); Team USA Cheerios (1996); Team Cheerios (1997); Berry Burst Cheerios (2003); Strawberry, Strawberry-Banana, Triple Berry, and Cherry- Vanilla Cheerios varieties (2005); Cinnamon Cheerios (year unknown); Strawberry Yogurt Burst Cheerios and Vanilla Yogurt Burst Cheerios (2005); Fruity Cheerios (2006); Cheerios Oat Cluster Crunch (2007); Banana Nut Cheerios (2009); Chocolate Cheerios (2010)
All in the family: Millenios (1999)
Notable spokescharacters: Cheeri O’Leary (1942); the Cheerios Kid and Sue (1953); Bullwinkle (1964); Cheeriodle (1977); Buzzbee (c. 1978); Joe Cool, a.k.a. Snoopy (1985)
Slogans: “It’s a honey of an O; it’s Honey-Nut Cheerios.” “The big G stands for goodness.” “Toasted whole grain oat cereal.”
Crunch on this: Cheerioats, created in 1941, was the first ready-to-eat oat cereal. The name was changed to Cheerios in 1945 because of a trade name dispute with the Quaker Oats Company. By 1954 it was General Mills’ bestselling cereal. And by 2005, one in eleven cereal boxes sold in America was a Cheerios product.

Greatamericancerealbook P59
Brought to you by: General Mills
First poured: 1937
Milked until: Still crunching
What’s in it for you: Corn puffs
Cerealineage: Corn Kix (year unknown)
Varieties: Berry Berry Kix (1992), Honey Kix (2009)
Notable spokescharacters: Kixie and Nixie (1950s); Pajama Boy (1964); Klyde the Beatnik (1965); Swerdloc, Gzorpe, Zilch, Colodny, and Booby (mid-1960s)
Slogans: “Stay[s] crisp in cream until the very last spoonful.” “Kix are like round cornflakes.” “Kid tested, mother approved.”
Crunch on this: Kix was the first ready-to-eat puffed corn cereal, and the second overall cereal that General Mills introduced. It was created by inventor and Minnesota physicist Lester Borchardt, who also created Cheerioats (later Cheerios) in 1941.

Greatamericancerealbook P100 Bowl
Brought to you by: Kellogg’s
First poured: 1965
Milked until: Still crunching
What’s in it for you: Three-grain (corn, wheat, and oat flour) O’s sweetened with apple and cinnamon flavoring
Varieties: Racing Apple Jacks (2000), The Haunted Apple Jacks Manor (year unknown), Holiday Apple Jacks (year unknown), Apple Clones (2010)
Notable spokescharacters: Apple Jack the Apple Head (1965), Snuffles the Dog (1974)
Slogan: “A is for Apple, J is for Jacks. Cinnamon toasty Apple Jacks!”
Crunch on this: Apple Jacks started out as orange O’s, then green shapes were added in the mid-nineties.
This Apple Jacks bowl and mug issued by Kellogg’s in 1967 featured Apple Jack the Apple Head.

Greatamericancerealbook P155
Brought to you by: The Quaker Oats Company
First poured: 1965
Milked until: Still crunching
What’s in it for you: Saucer-shaped sweetened corn
All in the family: Quake (1965), Quangaroos (1971)
Notable spokescharacter: Quisp the alien
Slogan: “Vitamin-powered sugary cereal, quisp for quazy energy.”
Crunch on this: Quisp and Quake were the brainchild of Jay Ward, who also brought us Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, and other enduring cartoon characters. Quisp was voiced by Daws Butler, who worked primarily for Hanna-Barbera.

Greatamericancerealbook P171
Brought to you by: General Mills
First poured: 1954
Milked until: Still crunching
What’s in it for you: Fruity, sweetened corn puffs
Varieties: Trix Fruit Shapes (1992), Reduced Sugar Trix (75% Less Sugar) (2004), Trix Swirls (2009)
Notable spokescharacters: Stick Figure Boy (1950s), the Trix Boys (year unknown), the Trix Rabbit (1960)
Slogan: “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!”
Crunch on this: Trix was the first fruit-flavored cereal on the market. Advertising executive Joe Harris created the Trix Rabbit and the cereal’s slogan one Sunday night in August 1959. In both 1976 and 1990, special commercials were run in which kids were encouraged to mail their box-top votes to General Mills to see if the Trix Rabbit should be allowed a bowl of Trix. After the votes of the “Let the Rabbit Eat Trix” contest were tallied, it was decided with an overwhelming “yes” that the Trix Rabbit should enjoy a bowl of Trix.

Greatamericancerealbook P194
Brought to you by: General Mills
First poured: 1972
Milked until: 1983
What was in it for you: Frosted chocolate corn puffs
Varieties: Strawberry Crazy Cow (1972)
Crunch on this: Crazy Cow was only available in test markets from 1972 to 1976. It went national in 1977. On the back of the box, kids were instructed to stir the milk until it turned chocolate (or strawberry, in the case of Strawberry Crazy Cow).

Greatamericancerealbook P198
Brought to you by: Ralston
First poured: 1971
Milked until: 1977 (reincarnated 1987–88, as Space-Surfing Freakies)
What was in it for you: Sweetened corn, oats, and wheat rings
Varieties: Cocoa Freakies (1973), Fruity Freakies (1975)
Notable spokescharacters: The Freakies: Boss Moss, Cowmumble, Gargle, Goody-Goody, Grumble, Hamhose, Snorkeldorf
Slogan: “We are the Freakies. Oh, we are the Freakies. And this is our Freakies tree. We never miss a meal, ’cause we love our cereal.”
Crunch on this: The Freakies were based on people who creator Jackie End knew at the ad agency Wells Rich Greene.

Text and images Copyright 2012 by Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis. Published by Abrams Image. Used by permission.

Buy The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch on Amazon


  1. I have an unopened box of Millenios way back on the top shelf of my pantry.
    * * *
    I was very much a Cereal Culture kid.

    Many of the cartoons I watched as a tot were not only sponsored by cereal companies, but made to spec by them. “Linus the Lionhearted” was the most extreme. It had characters based on Post cereals. “Bullwinkle” and “Tennesee Tuxedo” were both churned out by the same Mexican animation outfit that worked pretty much exclusively for General Mills. (Yes, there were different creative teams behind them.)

    * * *
    Mark: Beanie & Cecil the cartoon, or the puppet show?

  2. Mmmmmm, cereal. We used to love Lucky Charms and Sugar Corn Pops (remember when they actually advertised it as SUGAR Corn Pops!?). However, since we were relatively po’ folk growing up, we usually got the Malt-O Meal bagged versions or the Chex cereals.

    Also, for some reason, after I go running, I crave Lucky Charms or any kind of cereal. Mmmmm, cereal.

    Lucky Charms in my bowl
    Deceitful little wee elf
    Sugar buzz coming!

  3. Looks nice. Reminds me of a little book called Krazy Kids’ Food (Taschen) that I got a few years back which is filled with these kind of retro graphics.

    1. I read this post to see if Dan Goodsell, whose collection Krazy Kids’ Food is largely based on, was involved in this book. He’s a really nice guy who I see at comic-con every year.

    1. Your problem is a lack of dedication, a common rookie mistake. The secret to eating Cap’n Crunch is, until you can build up scar-tissue, use the Crunches to crunch to Crunches.

      In other words, don’t bite down all the way. After a few weeks, you’re golden. And all amped up as well.

    2. Neal Stephenson has an excellent diversion on eating Cap’n Crunch in, I believe, Crytonomicon. He has the ideal working solution to the dreaded soggies; pour the milk into one spot near the edge of the bowl and spoon from that one spot. Since they mostly float, you eat the wet ones off the bottom and the dry ones fall into the milk to replace them. 

  4. It’s strange how all the packaging and ads look so retro… except for Quisp! Looks like something Mark would throw together.

    Who would have thought that Quisp represented ageless design?

    1.  Mark has mentioned Quisp at least a couple of times previously on BB. On his recommendation, I bought some when I happened to see it in the clearance section at Target. I quite liked it (it’s basically the same as Cap’n Crunch but with a different shape) and I liked the package design too, which is the same as shown here. Definitely does not feel dated.

      The funny thing to me here is that this book’s cover design already feels dated to me. Very 2000’s. With so many examples of great retro design within the book, it’s a shame that they couldn’t spend the money to get a designer to do a cool retro design for the book cover.

  5. I loved Freakies cereal, and had all the figures. We created houses for them to live in, with little papercraft furniture and tiny magazines for them to read.

  6. Last October I went to several different grocery stores in my area in search of Boo Berry, and if I couldn’t find it, I was going to go with either Franken Berry or Count Chocula–none of which I’d ever tried. When I was eight or nine my mother, who’d been giving me Sugar Smacks up to that point, read a book called Why Your Child is Hyperactive and took me off as much sugar as possible. I began to dread the big hunks of shredded wheat in my bowl each morning.

    As an adult, though, I’ve never gone back to sugary cereal, but planned to have one of the General Mills monsters as a Halloween treat to myself. Couldn’t find any of ’em. It was very disappointing.

  7. My mom was pretty anti-sweet-cereal. Not a total ban, but getting a box of Frosted Flakes or Sugar Pops was a rare treat.

    Before the current recession and rise in food prices, supermarkets would occasionally have these insane cereal sales. Buy ten boxes and some insane price, add coupons, double coupons, and you’d end up with some serious bargains.

    On a few occasions, I wouldn’t have enough coupons to cover ten boxes of “adult” cereal. So I’d use a coupon for kid stuff, and end up with two or three boxes of Cap N Crunch or Honey Bangers or whatever. YOW! When your’re not used to that stuff, it can be pretty brutal. It’s pretty much candy.

    The sales and coupons were pretty much geared toward moving the cheap sugary crap. These days, I buy store-brand “adult” cereals. Kroger Colon Blow Extreme Bran!

  8. Notable spokescharacters: Kixie and Nixie (1950s); Pajama Boy (1964); Klyde the Beatnik (1965); Swerdloc, Gzorpe, Zilch, Colodny, and Booby (mid-1960s)

    Hey! They forgot the Schtickdooper! (This character liked Kix because they were fun to dynamite. Someone at the ad agency was definitely not stable!). And wasn’t that vocoder-processed voice announcing each character just too much?

  9. I’ve always been fascinated by American Sugary Cereals so this book looks great. One of the things I have planned to do if I visit the USA is to head straight to the nearest supermarket and marvel at the cereal aisle. It’s amazing how many brands I am familiar with from consuming Amercican media for the last 3 decades or so.

    I wonder if (since this book claims to be a ‘definitive compendium’) it mentions the sublime passage in Cryptonomicon about optimal consumption of Cap’n Crunch®?

    1. Sounds like the makings of an episode of CSI, or House:

      Naked man found swimming in fountain, screaming cosmic obscenities; His skin is  a strange green color, his pupils dilated, and multi-colored foam coming out of his mouth.

      Police finally identify him as a foreign tourist. In his hotel room are 37 boxes of sweetened cereal, all opened, and a well-worn bowl and spoon. In the room’s mini-fridge, a gallon of whole milk.

  10. I always combined Kix with Cheerios ‘cuz one sits in the other.

    The solution to a perfect breakfast 

  11. Apple Jacks, my favorite!  Named after cheap hooch. Puffa Puffa Rice, Alpha Bits and Crispy Critters.  Most days; Quaker Oats, eggs or Cream of Wheat.
    Then there’s Cap’n Crunch Ice Cream bars – Strawberry and Chocolate, 5¢. Better and cheaper than a Push-Up for 10¢.

  12. “Today, I wouldn’t dare put a spoonful of these corn-flavored sugar nuggets in my mouth (I don’t buy sweetened cereal for my kids, either).”

    Why ever not? I’m actually waiting for my sister to visit Berlin in 10 days, with a box of Capt’n Crunch concealed in her luggage. It’s time my German daughter learned what real breakfast cereal is like. muesli be damned!

  13. Contemporaneous with the Boing Boing zine was the excellent FLAKE zine, not only about cereal packaging, cardboard flexidisks on the back of cereal packages and how they came up with dehydrated marshmallows, but also this fine tip on discovering old cereal boxes in good condition: go to estate sales of people who had grandkids in the 60s: there may be still a half-used box of vintage cereal in the pantry!

  14. Mark: Do you expect you daughter to grow up with fond memories of waking up early and eating Granola? A little tooth rot didn’t hurt you, did it?

    She also isn’t going to be making up a miracle flow over a cereal bowl and a poor beat from the stereo. This song reminds me so much of childhood:

    Saturday morning, cartoons and sickening amounts of processed sugar. Yum!

  15. The Freakies were the best all around.  I couldn’t wait for Mom to get the next box, and I played with those toys more than anything else I had.  And I loved the cereal as well!
    Supposedly there was a movement to bring them back some time ago, but I don’t think anything came from it.

  16. “Today, I wouldn’t dare put a spoonful of these corn-flavored sugar nuggets in my mouth (I don’t buy sweetened cereal for my kids, either).”

    Never quite understood this philosophy.  When you compare the nutrition labels about the only difference between “kid” and “adult” cereals is the fiber content.  Sweetened or not, the carbohydrate contents are pretty close to equal.

    I never got much sweetened cereal as a kid, simply because they were more expensive.

  17. I was not allowed to eat sugary cereals on school mornings. Fair game over the summer and on weekends though.

    The only exception was Cocoa-Puffs, because my mother loved them.

    I still eat cereal as an adult. I have Trix, Cap’n Crunch, and Life in my pantry right now.

  18. Already out of date. I just finished a box of Dulce de Leche Cheerios. Too sweet to have a bowlful in milk, but fine dry in small amounts.

  19. I finally weaned myself off of these cereals.  I’m scared to get this book, but I want it so, so badly!

    There was, in my callow youth, a cereal box prize called “Space Fringes”.  I think the cereal was called that, too, though I can’t be certain; it may have been a prize in another cereal.  The Space Fringes all had names that rhymed with “fringe”, e.g., a more-or-less grasshopper looking fellow was called “Hoppinge”.  Collect them all!

    They were little plastic monsters rather like Freakies.  In fact, I believe I had set up in my mind some imaginary animosity between the Space Fringes and Freakies, something on the order of the war imagined between G.I. Joe and Action Jackson.

    They must have been obliterated in the conflict, as I can find no evidence of this lost cereal or prize.

    Anyone else?

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